The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings

Florida A&M and Benedict College are top HBCU bands in first rankings of the season

Our bands are back! We’re loving it, and these rankings judge them on music, precision, dance and drum majors

After a nearly two-year hiatus, it’s time for this season’s first The Undefeated rankings of the top bands among historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in NCAA Division I and Division II.

The top bands are the Florida A&M Marching 100 in Division I and Benedict College Band of Distinction in Division II. For the first time in poll history, FAMU sits No. 1 overall. In the final 2019 top 10 rankings, FAMU finished at seventh.

The rankings, conducted by two six-person panels of current and retired band directors and HBCU choreographers, evaluate bands on musicality, pictures, drill and design, percussion, auxiliary corps and drum majors. Judges critique the bands’ routines after watching their performances, then provide feedback to the programs.

“While other polls are focused strictly on entertainment, popularity and competition, our goal is to continually improve the quality of our amazing HBCU bands through positive feedback from their peers and professional colleagues,” said Don P. Roberts, executive consultant for The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings. “Our poll is not based on popularity, but more so on objective criteria that can be used to improve each and every performance. Some other polls only focus on stand battles, but our rankings reiterate the fact that field shows and good tone still matter.”

The rankings divide bands from Division I and Division II schools, which include the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) and Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC). Independent schools such as Tennessee State and Hampton in Division I, and Talladega College, Allen University, Langston University, Florida Memorial and Edward Waters in Division II, are also rated.

This season is the first for both FAMU and Bethune-Cookman in the SWAC. The Bethune-Cookman Marching Wildcats are No. 2 in the initial ranking, right behind their former MEAC competitor.

The Marching 100 finished No. 1 in the first rankings in musicality, and pictures, drill and design. At the Orange Bowl Classic in Miami, the band went viral when it performed a formation of a basketball player dunking a ball.

“On behalf of our students, campus, alumni and administration, we are excited about our recent selection as the ESPN/Undefeated No. 1 HBCU marching band in America. Our current Marching 100 members are proud and poised to continue this great legacy, and realize we stand on the shoulders of the giants before us,” said Florida A&M director of bands Shelby Chipman. “The 2021 edition of the Marching 100 is excited to start our 75th anniversary with this incredible honor and to make our presence known in the SWAC. We pride ourselves on being the marchingest and playingest band in the world. The best is yet to come!”

Benedict College isn’t a stranger to the top of the rankings. The Band of Distinction finished the 2019 season ranked second overall after being rated top-5 in the three categories.

“It is indeed an honor to be recognized for this great achievement! Our success is a direct result of the tremendous support from our administration, band staff and the commitment to excellence, in both the classroom and the band room, by our student-musicians,” said Henry Wade Johnson, the director of bands at Benedict College. “We will continue to strive to be the #BestofBC. We also thank all of our fellow SIAC and HBCU bands across the nation for continuing to push music forward.”

HBCU band newcomers, the Florida Memorial ROAR and Allen University Band of Gold, have existed for less than five years, but both have managed to jump into the Division II top 10 with the ROAR and Band of Gold ranked second and ninth, respectively.

“We are most grateful for this prestigious acknowledgment as one of the best marching bands in America, particularly so early in our existence,” Florida Memorial director of bands Richard Beckford said of the ranking. “Our mission to empower Florida Memorial University’s band students to own their excellence on their path to success and to inspire future students to consider attending FMU and joining the ROAR here in Miami Gardens, Florida, is at the forefront of our efforts daily.”

When asked how it feels to finally crack the top 10, Allen’s director of bands Eddie Ellis simply said, “It feels good. … We have worked very hard to bring national attention to our band program and university. This is a great accomplishment and wonderful exposure for our band program.”

Top 10 HBCU Division I Bands

Overall Rank Auxiliary Drum Major Musicality Percussion Pictures, Drill and Design
1. Florida A&M University 7 4 1 10 1
2. Bethune-Cookman University 10 1 2 12 3
3. Norfolk State University 4 7 3 6 2
4. Southern University 1 5 6 11 5
5. Jackson State University 11 3 12 8 4
6. Alabama State University 2 2 10 15 10
7. North Carolina A&T University 12 9 4 1 11
8. Prairie View A&M University 9 15 5 4 7
9. Tennessee State University 14 10 7 9 6
10. Hampton University 3 11 8 3 9

Auxiliaries

  1. Southern University
  2. Alabama State University
  3. Hampton University
  4. Norfolk State University
  5. Alcorn State University

Drum Major

  1. Bethune-Cookman University
  2. Alabama State University
  3. Jackson State University
  4. Florida A&M University
  5. Southern University

Musicality

  1. Florida A&M University
  2. Bethune-Cookman University
  3. Norfolk State University
  4. North Carolina A&T University
  5. Prairie View A&M University

Percussion

  1. North Carolina A&T University
  2. Texas Southern University
  3. Hampton University
  4. Prairie View A&M University
  5. Grambling State University

Pictures, Drill and Design

  1. Florida A&M University
  2. Norfolk State University
  3. Bethune-Cookman University
  4. Jackson State University
  5. Southern University
Florida A&M
Bethune-Cookman
Norfolk State

Top 10 HBCU Division II Bands

Overall Rank Auxiliary Drum Major Musicality Percussion Pictures, Drill and Design
1. Benedict College 4 2 2 9 6
2. Florida Memorial 6 5 3 4 7
3. Central State University 1 3 8 11 5
4. Langston University 2 4 7 6 12
5. Talladega College 7 12 6 5 4
6. Miles College 13 9 5 2 1
7. Winston-Salem State University 14 7 1 7 9
8. Elizabeth City State University 10 1 12 3 13
9. Allen University 9 10 4 8 14
10. Edward Waters College 5 8 9 12 15

Auxiliaries

  1. Central State University
  2. Langston University
  3. Kentucky State University
  4. Benedict College
  5. Edward Waters College

Drum Major

  1. Elizabeth City State University
  2. Benedict College
  3. Central State University
  4. Langston University
  5. Florida Memorial

Musicality

  1. Winston-Salem State University
  2. Benedict College
  3. Florida Memorial
  4. Allen University
  5. Miles College

Percussion

  1. Lane College
  2. Miles College
  3. Elizabeth City State University
  4. Florida Memorial
  5. Talladega College

Pictures, Drill and Design

  1. Miles College
  2. Fort Valley State University
  3. Livingstone College
  4. Talladega College
  5. Central State University
Benedict
Florida Memorial
Central State

Band judging criteria

Auxiliaries: Dance/flag routine, baton/flag carriage, utilization of space, marching/strut technique, uniform, style and more.

Drum major: Conducting, baton carriage, utilization of space, marching technique, accuracy and definition, style and discipline.

Musicality: Tone, intonation, balance, technique, consistency of style, interpretation and musical effect.

Percussion: Rudimental excellence, general appearance, showmanship, technique/stick control, drill execution, style consistency and discipline.

Pictures, drill and design: Intervals and spacing, creativity, marching style, precision in timing, definition of patterns, showmanship, instrument carriage and showmanship.

Mia Berry is a 2020 graduate of Notre Dame University with a B.A. degree in film, TV and theatre. She is the HBCU reporter for The Undefeated.