Be Honest, You're Just At The Game To Watch The Drumline

Human Jukebox Marching Band/2C2K Photography /Flickr/CC-2.0


While HBCU Homecoming games bring exciting times, the sporting event is often secondary to the main attraction: the marching band.

The kicks, flips, choreography, and jams that characterize Black marching bands is a sight to see, but it wasn’t always like this.

Black marching bands started as part of the colonial era military. Most Black men and Black regiments were not allowed to carry arms. They were only valuable as musicians.

When the Civil War came around, brass bands were commonplace in the military. Each Black regiment had their own band. They played and marched in public spaces, often as a means of recruitment.

The Civil War ended, but marching bands continued on and became an integral part of American society. In fact, 1880-1910 is often referred to as the golden age of marching bands.

After World War I, Black musicians from military bands frequently went on to lead HBCU music departments.

Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute is widely considered the first HBCU with a marching band, which the school named the Tuskegee Normal School Brass Band. Other HBCUs had their own marching bands, but they were connected to the Reserves Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and sponsored by athletics departments.

These bands mostly performed drill exercises, but Florida A&M (FAMU) changed the game.

In 1946, during practice, the FAMU band started doing steps and high-knee lifts while playing “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” Dr. William Foster, FAMU’s bandleader emeritus, said it just happened. “People thought that was the greatest thing on earth.”

The FAMU physical education teacher choreographed some moves, and thus showmanship in marching bands was born.

By the 1960s, everyone wanted to see a Black marching band. FAMU, Grambling State, and Southern University received national attention. Grambling even played the halftime show for the first Super Bowl.

And still today, Black marching bands attract large crowds on their own. Sometimes, they’re more popular than the football teams because, let’s be honest, a Black marching band will never let you down.

If you’d like to know more, check out this amazing collection of pictures of Black marching bands in the book, Marching Bands.

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