If you’re not familiar with the acronym HBCU, you should be. It stands for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and in the band world, it refers to the marching bands that come from those schools. In terms of marching band, it means a show-style approach, which tends to mean more dancing, strutting, high-stepping, and generally great choreography!
HBCU Bands tend to march and perform with attitude. And just like in traditional-style marching bands, the camaraderie and a tight bond develops throughout each season as the band becomes like a great big family.
“I think the biggest reason to join a black college band is the sense of pride you get from being not just part of a team, but also a family,” said Christy Walker, co-creator of the5thquarter.com, a black college bands website and a former band member at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro. “In the band, you form life-long friendships with people from all over. You end up spending hours and hours with these people and begin to think of them as brothers and sisters. And, just like in a real family, while you may not get along with everybody 24/7, when you really need them, they will be there for you.” (From an article about the Queen City Battle of the Bands)
HBCU bands, like other traditional marching bands, find their roots in military bands dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War here in the States. Historians believe that nearly 5,000 Blacks were integrated into the pre-revolutionary war military as musicians, as many units banned black, mulattos, or native Americans in the military from bearing arms. Many also say that the military band members of the 19th century received most of their training and instruments during the War of 1812 with many all-black brass bands arising after the war in cities such as New Orleans, Philadelphia, and New York. (link)
In the 1960s, HBCU marching bands began to take on a distinctive style of their own, as many marching bands up until then relied heavily on the military approach and block marching styles. And still, to this day, HBCU bands perform with a distinctive swagger that creates a wholly different, but just as exciting, atmosphere for the audience.
HBCU bands also gather throughout the season for what can only be called THROWDOWNS! These battles of the bands are similar to traditional style bands, although some are not judged, and “winners” are really decided by fan engagement.
Some of the country’s top HBCU bands are:
- Sonic Boom of The South: Jackson State University
- Human Jukebox: Southern University
- Mighty Marching Hornets: Alabama State University
- Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South – University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
- Marching 101 Band – South Carolina State University
These bands were the top 5 selected in a poll by HBCUbuzz.com