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HBCU Bands

HBCU bands parading their talent this holiday season

Morgan State’s Magnificent Marching Machine is in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

This holiday season, there are a few bands from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) taking their talents from the stadium and making history around the world.

Morgan State University’s Magnificent Marching Machine, for instance, will appear in the 2019 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. The Magnificent Marching Machine was one of a few bands selected for the parade out of hundreds of entries. One of nine bands in the Macy’s parade, it is only the fifth HBCU group in the parade’s 95-year history to perform on the route.

“It’s very exciting for the school and it’s an amazing opportunity for the students,” Morgan State director of bands Melvin Miles said. They’re “in an iconic parade that they will carry in their memories for the rest of their lives. Every time they see it on TV, they will know they’ve been a part of that. For me, that’s a real important thing to happen to them. So we’re pretty excited, pretty focused and ready to go.”

The announcement that the band would be in New York came last year during the university’s homecoming festivities. Cheers rang out from the fans, students, faculty and staff in attendance. Even in the midst of celebrating, Miles begun to plan for the band’s important moment.

“It was everything from excitement to, ‘Wow, this is going to be a lot of work,’ ” Miles said. “It’s all the feelings you get from being part of something like this.”

According the Miles, the band will march in the 2.65-mile parade, and have a “star performance” near the end of the parade route that will be televised. They began practicing for it as soon as students set foot on campus in August.

“It’s a lot of making sure that everybody is in good shape to make it to the end of the parade and then be able to put on a high-level performance,” Miles said. “It’s a TV production, so it’s about timing. But it is also a parade, so you have to be really great coming through so the people on the parade route can get a good sense of who you are and what you do.”

For members of the band and auxiliary, preparation for the parade has been an exciting focal point of the semester. This will be one of the largest performances for Morgan State freshman Sierra Hill, who said she was a little nervous upon learning they would be in the parade. As a member of the flag team, Hill said, there are differences from high school to college, especially when prepping for a big event such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The discipline and conditioning are different. Her tosses are higher. Being on point at every turn is key.

“I had to put a lot of work into it,” Hill said. “And now that we’re about to be on TV, it’s a lot of pressure, but then again it feels good to hear the crowd cheer for you … I want to be on TV. That’s what I’m excited about.”

Other band members are also experiencing a moment like this for the first time. Freshman trombonist Reginald Allen II said he’s been waiting for this moment since joining the Magnificent Marching Machine.

Dancers for the Morgan State University’s Magnificent Marching Machine.

Morgan State University

“There are a lot of large parades that you can do for championship games and other big cities, but Macy’s? That is the event,” Allen said. “I don’t think anything tops that.”

And although all eyes will be on the Magnificent Marching Machine on Thanksgiving, Morgan State won’t be the only HBCU getting some shine this holiday season.

In two months, the Hampton University Marching Force will perform in a New Year’s Day parade on Jan. 1 in Rome. It will be the first HBCU band to participate in this event.

“This wonderful opportunity will put Hampton University on an international spotlight and bring some attention to what we’re doing with the band at Hampton,” band director Thomas Jones said in an announcement. “Over the last year, we have been focusing on recruiting talented musicians, dancers, color guard and majorettes. This trip validates what we’re doing. The strength of the program is growing. Traveling is a great incentive for new and current students and we are really looking forward to this exciting journey.”

On the same day, the “Human Jukebox” of Southern University will participate in the 131st Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. And later in January, the Honda Battle of the Bands Invitational Showcase returns to Atlanta and will feature these eight HBCU bands:

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.