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Honda Battle of the Bands

Miles College proves they have one of the best HBCU bands

The Purple Marching Machine left it all on the field in its first Honda Battle of the Bands

ATLANTA — Miles College proudly entered the field for the Honda Battle of the Bands Invitational Showcase with horns blaring.

The tune? Bone Crusher’s 2003 classic Never Scared a better than perfect performance for the moment. The Purple Marching Machine won over the crowd completely and immediately in its inaugural performance in the Honda Battle of the Bands. It also sent a clear message that the band of 220 members can and should hang with the best bands out there.

“We have somewhat of a chip on our shoulder because we do feel like it shouldn’t have taken this long for us to get invited to the Honda Battle of the Bands, but then again we are very grateful for being invited,” said Lebarron McWhorter, Miles College associate director of bands. “It just gives our students more drive to put on a great performance.”

Great doesn’t quite describe their performance. After hyping and winning the crowd, the band played a slower rendition of the unofficial historically black college band anthem, Cameo’s Talkin’ Out the Side of Your Neck, before launching into the fast-paced classic, I’m Your Baby Tonight, by Whitney Houston.

After the band was invited to the showcase, the natural initial reaction from most was excitement, according to McWhorter. But first — before fans would get to enjoy the complete and polished product — there had to be months of hard work to prepare for this moment.

“We gave out our music right after our last home football game, like early November, and we did minor preparations for it, like dances and getting the music out to the students,” McWhorter said. “Once we came back from Christmas break, for us, rehearsals started at the beginning of January and we’ve been practicing pretty much every day.”

It’s only McWhorter’s second year with the band, but he says one of the best parts about the job is jelling with students and learning the system at Miles College. McWhorter, a graduate of the historically black Alabama State, spent several years in Georgia as a high school band teacher but always remained in close contact with the Miles College director of college bands Willie Snipes. The two were good friends, and when an opportunity arose for McWhorter to join the Miles College staff, he didn’t hesitate to answer the call. Conducting the band with two of the best leaders out there, Snipes and assistant director of bands, Bryan Nalls, is all McWhorter hoped it would be.

“This [position] has done nothing but strengthened our relationship as far as friends and us working together,” McWhorter said. “We’re not only colleagues, but friends as well. We spend a lot of time talking about our students and making sure we’re able to give the best to them. It’s not just about the music. We try to make our students better human beings so they can contribute to society.”

The Miles College band was established in 1949 by director Iva B. Williams in Fairfield, Alabama. Although there were only 35 members, they still performed at football games and other events until the school discontinued the football program in 1975. The band would be re-established in 1996, but there was a lot to be done for a program that had been defunct for 21 years.

Today, the Purple Marching Machine continues to strengthen and prove itself worthy of being considered the best, because it is the best, according to McWhorter. Under Snipes’ leadership, the band continues to give fans reasons to be proud.

“We do things that’s outside of the box with our program,” McWhorter said. “We do perform the latest hits on the radio, we’re trying to draw our audience into our performance. We’re not just playing the notes from the paper. We’re playing the emotions.”

The band continued their set bouncing from Bobby Brown’s My Prerogative to other up-tempo songs that drew crowd participation.

The band then stepped out of the box just as McWhorter said they would. They brought out members of Miles College’s choir as the band played in the background for a live version of Kurt Carr’s For Every Mountain. In the last five minutes of its performance, Miles College took every attendee in the crowd to church.

“We stay original to what we believe in at Miles College, which is producing great musicians,” McWhorter said. “With that, we have very high standards for our students. We perform with very high energy out on the field. We perform with a lot of excitement and put on a very dynamic halftime shows with precision drills and awesome music that our audience can get involved in.”

In heated debates of who takes the crown in top historically black college and university (HBCU) bands, Miles College rarely tops the list. But with performances such as the one displayed in Atlanta, the band proved it is very much capable of — and deserving of — a mention in these conversations. McWhorter hopes more showcases like this will show the world that Miles College has aspirations.

Even though Miles College was not eligible for the ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings last season, it will be in the 2018 season because of the expansion of the polling. Miles showed the crowd it could perform with the biggest and the best, including others who participated Jan. 27: Hampton, Alabama A&M, Prairie A&M, North Carolina A&T, Alabama State, Tennessee State and Bethune-Cookman.

“I hope that the band excels and that we get more exposure natural,” McWhorter said. “I hope that the fans take away that Miles College is a premier band in this country and that we have a lot to say and a lot we want to offer to the band community and people in general.”

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.