Battle of the Bands: A celebration of HBCU excellence through music – KPRC Click2Houston

HOUSTON – Oftentimes when people think of historically Black colleges and universities, the high-energy and electric bands are at the forefront of their minds.

For years, HBCU marching bands have served as sources of entertainment and are used as resources for recruitment at universities. From performing in music videos to gracing national events such as presidential inaugurations, these marching bands are a direct reflection of HBCU excellence through intricate techniques, incredible musicality, and overwhelming pride.

Texas Southern University’s Ocean of Soul Band (KPRC 2)

Welcome to Pepsi Battle of the Bands

The 2023 Pepsi National Battle of the Bands is one of many events where multiple HBCU bands are selected to showcase their talent in front of thousands.

In addition to highlighting HBCUs, NBOTB’s mission is to put a much-deserved spotlight on marching bands’ roles in educating aspiring musicians while developing them into future leaders.

Langston University’s Marching Pride (KPRC 2)

”The rich history of HBCUs extends beyond academia to a thriving tradition of soulful marching bands and community activism,” a spokesperson for NBOTB said. “Their performances are not just about the music, but also the movement, passion, and creativity that resonate with the essence of hip-hop. This shared heritage makes celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop at NBOTB a momentous occasion in American culture.”

Southern University’s Human Jukebox (KPRC 2)

This year’s show was an ode to the unbreakable bond between music, culture, and education while celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Artists like Doug E. Fresh, Outkast’s Big Boi, Slim Thug, Choppa, Lil’ Keke, Z-Ro, and DJ Mr. Rogers represented both old and new school hip-hop while creating a synergy that honored the past and present at NRG Stadium. Though a winner isn’t officially declared in these battles, money is typically split up amongst the bands. These events have generated nearly $1 million in scholarships for the participating colleges and universities.

Pepsi National Battle of the Bands donations to participants (KPRC 2)

According to a news release, NBOTB is the largest HBCU marching band event and the fourth largest HBCU African American event in the country.

This year’s lineup included:

  • Langston University, “Marching Pride” Band

  • Mississippi Valley State University, Mean Green Marching Machine

  • Norfolk State University, The Spartan “Legion” Marching Band

  • Southern University, Human Jukebox

  • Tennessee State University, Aristocrat of Bands

  • Texas Southern University, “Ocean of Soul” Marching Band

  • Virginia State University, Trojan Marching Explosion

  • Florida A&M University’s Marching 100

When it comes to Houston’s very own “Ocean of Soul” participating in this year’s event, Band Director Brian Simmons said the band was honored.

“For us, it’s a real opportunity. It’s a full-circle moment,” Simmons said. “This is my third year at Texas Southern University. My first year, we were invited, however, we couldn’t perform due to the COVID outbreak in summer 2021, so it sidelined everybody, and they couldn’t perform. Within those two years, we were able to build out a band, build their confidence, work on their execution, focused everybody into having a like mind, and within those two years, we’ve had some banging performances.”

Texas Southern University’s Ocean of Soul (KPRC 2)

Simmons said the band has earned the right to be a part of the yearly event.

“I always tell the band, ‘Everything we do, we have to earn it. We have to earn it every night. You’re just not the Ocean of Soul. You have to earn that name every night,’ so I think with us being on the marquee of some of the nation’s top bands, we winning,” Simmons told KPRC 2 Digital Content Producer Erica Ponder.

History of HBCU bands

Most believe that the first HBCU was created at the Tuskegee Normal School (presently known as Tuskegee University). According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the earliest HBCU bands were informal groups that provided music for campus religious services, fundraisers, military drills and more beginning in the 1870s. They then began to combine traditional military band style with popular music borrowed from traveling circus bands and minstrel shows. Florida A&M University’s band, now known as the “Marching 100,” was one of the first HBCU bands to perform at community celebrations in addition to campus events. The band has been credited for also being one of the first to incorporate popular music and choreography into their routines in the 1940s. Southern University’s Human Jukebox band was soon to follow, NMAAHC said.

Florida A&M University’s Marching 100 (KPRC 2)

These bands also helped provide a safe space of entertainment to Blacks who were not able to enjoy concerts at certain venues due to segregation. According to NMAAHC, guests were welcomed to enjoy musical events that would’ve otherwise been inaccessible to them.

Honorable mentions

Drum majors

Virginia State University’s Trojan Marching Explosion (KPRC 2)

Drum majors play an important role in HBCU bands, but the honor consists of hard work, leadership and dedication.

Known for being favorites on the field, these leaders exude so much excitement and help keep the band in step while setting the pace. Under the direction of the band director, drum majors are proven to have exceptional marching ability and are instrumental in the overall success of HBCU band programs.

Although a former section leader and baritone player in Southern University’s band, Simmons understands the importance of a drum major’s role in a band.

“The drum major is an extension of the band staff also while still being a student leader,” Simmons explained. “A lot of people just see the showman side of what the drum majors do. When the band hits the field and hits performances, a lot of times the drum major is the band director.”

Simmons said some duties a drum major has is conducting the band, marching the band in place and calling commands for transitions.

“We look for our best leaders in the band. Also, once we find our best leaders, we look for the ones who have a little more athletic ability and skills to be able to do some of the showman-style moves,” Simmons said.

For the love of dance: History of majorettes

Langston University’s Marching Pride (KPRC 2)

When speaking of HBCU bands, majorettes must also be mentioned in the conversation. These beautiful dancers are known to incorporate pop culture, jazz, ballet, hip-hop and more in their electrifying movements and uniforms.

Southern University’s Human Jukebox (KPRC 2)

The first HBCU majorette team was reportedly founded in 1968 at (then) Alcorn A&M College by Samuel Griffin. According to Alcorn University’s website, the “Golden Girls” were believed to be the first dance line to perform with choreographed movements to an HBCU band’s music during the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami. Now, squads across America can be seen dominating the field with twirls, flips, and other signature moves that captivate audience members.

The state of HBCU marching bands

Band Director for Florida A&M University’s Marching 100 (KPRC 2)

HBCU marching bands continue to help train musicians and aspiring music educators for the future. Oftentimes, these members take their technical training and degrees and go back into their communities to help educate the younger generations through teaching and mentorship.

As far as the future of HBCU bands is concerned, Simmons said he would like to see more support to continue their legacies.

“I’d like to see just more support overall for band programs at an administrative level, from an alumni level and even just a stakeholder level,” Simmons said. “Just being able to understand not only the value of these bands but the value of the experience that these bands have on the lives of their students. Once we understand that, then we can make sure these students have what they need to be successful.”

Tennessee State University’s Aristocrat of Bands (KPRC 2)

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