Here's How A Happy "Mistake" Helped Define HBCU Culture

JSU Drum Majors
Leslie Taylor-Grover
June 10, 2020

While HBCU bands have been around since the 1920s, they haven’t always looked like they do now. They were so different, you might not have even recognized them back then!

The first HBCU bands were styled after the military bands that were part of all-Black regiments created during the Civil War. Brass instruments with big sounds became commonplace. But soon, more elements were added.

As HBCUs emerged, Black war veterans headed up their music departments, creating bands that could fundraise for the HBCUs. There was no dazzling showmanship; in fact the style was regimented and controlled. So how did today’s HBCU band come about?

It started as a risk that could’ve ended poorly! In 1946, the FAMU band’s director wasn’t sure what to do, so he had the team practicing high steps and playing ragtime music. And the crowds loved it! 

So the band director asked a P.E. teacher to choreograph some steps, and the HBCU band style was born. So was it REALLY a mistake?

Absolutely NOT! The choreography and the music may have broken tradition from “correct” methods, but they caught on because they’re amazing! HBCU bands have competed to wow crowds ever since. 

We must always bring our Black excellence to the table, even when it’s a risk!

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