ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings

In the final rankings, top bands are N.C. A&T and Winston-Salem State

These two have done consistently well all season in musicality and percussion

The season is done and so are the ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings for this year, and the top bands are both from North Carolina: North Carolina A&T in Division I and Winston-Salem State in Division II.

The final rankings are totaled from performances throughout the season and reflect the judges’ assessment of more than 100 video performances since mid-September.

N.C. A&T’s Blue and Gold Marching Machine, which was tops in the September rankings, ended the season No. 1 because of No. 2 ratings in auxiliaries and musicality, No. 3 in percussion, No. 5 in drum majors, No. 6 in drill and design in the cumulative rankings for the season. The Aggies were No. 2 in the preseason rankings and in October, and were never out of the top five during the season.

Prairie View A&M, which was No. 1 in the last ranking, ends the season as No. 2 for Division I. The Marching Storm had been ranked No. 2 in September and No. 3 in October.

“It feels great to be regarded as one of the top bands in America. It makes all the hard work and daily sacrifices for both staff and students worth it. It is truly a team effort and everyone’s talents are utilized to produce the caliber of shows that we execute,” said Kenny Ruff, N.C. A&T director of bands. “It’s good to know other directors and peers feel as if the Blue and Gold Marching Machine is among those groups that emphasize qualities that make a great band.”

Fans at Saturday’s Celebration Bowl in Atlanta will see the Blue and Gold Marching Machine when the Aggies play Alcorn State at noon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Winston-Salem State’s band, the Red Sea of Sound, started the season at No. 1. It was No. 6 in the Dec. 5 rankings and was catapulted to No. 1 on its strength in three categories: percussion (No. 2), musicality (No. 1), and drill and design. (No. 3). Benedict College had been No. 1 in the Dec. 5 rankings. Its highest cumulative category finishes for the season were in percussion at No. 1, and No. 2 in drill and design, but the Red Sea of Sound prevailed in a very close finish.

“I mentioned at the beginning of the season that while we were happy to be named No. 1 in DII; the real rankings occur at the end of the season. We are more than thrilled to be ranked No. 1. Our students and staff worked very hard this year,” said Winston-Salem State director of bands Michael Magruder.

The rankings, conducted by two six-person panels of current and retired band directors and choreographers from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), evaluate bands on musicality, drill and design, percussion, auxiliary corps and drum majors. Judges critique the bands’ routines, then provide that feedback to the programs.

Judge Sheena Brown, a former captain of the Norfolk State University Hot Ice dance line, has 16 years of dance experience, ranging from ballet to African and ballroom styles. She’s a judge because the work supports HBCU dancers, gives them a larger platform and allows them to be seen by a broader audience.

“I look for extra elements,” Brown said. “The costumes, the props, incorporating gymnastics or acrobatics into the routine and you can tell when the squad is one. And when I see the most technical pieces synchronized, I’m like, ‘Yes, this is it.’ They’re clean, they’re well-polished, the uniformity is there.

“We go through so much in band camp and I don’t think the world knows what we go through to put on a two-minute performance. So, I’m very thankful for this process.”

The judges’ feedback after each ranking is provided to the bands to help them improve and learn, a mission the judges embrace because they are educators, instructors and teachers at universities. The rankings are based on evaluation of specific criteria by a panel of experts that sees multiple performances on video each week.

This concludes the third year of the rankings that include bands from all NCAA Division I and Division II schools, which include the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (CIAA) and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC).

Julian E. White, director of bands emeritus at Florida A&M University, and Harold Haughton, director of bands emeritus at Virginia State University, have judged the bands since the first year of the rankings in 2017 and were co-chairs of the panels again this season. They’ll be part of every adjudication.

Top 10 HBCU Division I Bands

Overall Rank Drum Major Drill Design Musicality Percussion Auxiliary
1. +3 North Carolina A&T 5. 6. 2. 3. 2.
2. -1 Prairie View A&M 2. 12. 6. 1. 1.
3. -1 Bethune-Cookman 7. 4. 1. 7. 7.
4. +6 Tennessee State 3. 7. 5. 4. 13.
5. +1 Jackson State 1. 1. 4. 13. 14.
6. -3 Southern 6. 2. 7. 11. 5.
7. Florida A&M 11. 11. 3. 6. 17.
8. Norfolk State 20. 3. 8. 2. 3.
9. -1 Grambling State 13. 8. 15. 16. 4.
10. -1 Hampton 4. 14. 10. 10. 9.

Drum Major

  1. Jackson State
  2. Prairie View A&M
  3. Tennessee State
  4. Hampton
  5. North Carolina A&T

Drill and Design

  1. Jackson State
  2. Southern
  3. Norfolk State
  4. Bethune-Cookman
  5. U of Arkansas-Pine Bluff


  1. Bethune-Cookman
  2. North Carolina A&T
  3. Florida A&M
  4. Jackson State
  5. Tennessee State


  1. Prairie View A&M
  2. Norfolk State
  3. North Carolina A&T
  4. Tennessee State
  5. North Carolina Central


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

North Carolina A&T

Grambling State

Alcorn State

Top 10 HBCU Division II Bands

Overall Rank Drum Major Drill Design Musicality Percussion Auxiliary
1. +5 Winston-Salem State 9. 3. 1. 2. 16.
2. -1 Benedict 12. 2. 2. 1. 8.
3. +5 Elizabeth City State 11. 8. 9. 19. 21.
4. +1 Fort Valley State 2. 5. 4. 15. 6.
5. +5 Kentucky State 5. 1. 5. 17. 7.
6. +1 Allen 8. 9. 7. 11. 1.
7. +2 Albany State 7. 7. 10. 14. 10.
8. Central State 17. 6. 6. 6. 12.
9. Miles 16. 10. 3. 4. 9.
10. Morehouse 3. 13. 11. 8. 2.

Drum Major

  1. Virginia Union
  2. Fort Valley State
  3. Morehouse
  4. Clark Atlanta
  5. Kentucky State

Drill and Design

  1. Kentucky State
  2. Benedict
  3. Winston-Salem State
  4. Talladega
  5. Fort Valley State


  1. Winston-Salem State
  2. Benedict
  3. Miles
  4. Fort Valley State
  5. Kentucky State


  1. Benedict
  2. Winston-Salem State
  3. Shaw
  4. Miles
  5. Talladega


  1. Allen
  2. Morehouse
  3. Talladega
  4. Clark Atlanta
  5. Fort Valley State

Winston-Salem State

Virginia State

Albany State

Band judging criteria

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

Drill and Design: Intervals and spacing, creativity, marching style, precision in timing, definition of patterns, showmanship, instrument carriage and showmanship.

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.

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