HBCU Marching Band Prepares for Annual Honda Battle of the Bands

Band members stand on the field during the annual Honda Battle of the Bands, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, in Atlanta (AP photo)Band members stand on the field during the annual Honda Battle of the Bands, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, in Atlanta (AP photo)

Before she ever heard of Lincoln University, DeJanee Jones was set to go to Rutgers University. That was the plan until she went to a high school marching band event, where she saw the Lincoln University Orange Crush Roaring Lion marching band in action.

It was then and there that Jones realized she could have an HBCU experience as far north as Pennsylvania. “I decided to go to Lincoln because I could stay closer to home and still be in an HBCU marching band,” she said. Lincoln University, along with Cheyney University, are situated in Pennsylvania. As such, they are the two northernmost HBCUs.

Now Jones plays in the piccolo section with the Orange Crush and is majoring in human services with music as a minor. The band is relatively new, as far as HBCU marching bands go, but, this year, the Orange Crush is set to perform for the first time at the annual Honda Battle of the Bands on Jan. 30.

“I feel like this opportunity is finally our time to show everyone what we are capable of and get our names out there in the band world,” Jones said.

The Honda Battle of the Bands is not a battle in the traditional sense, in that no “winner” is selected. Rather, it is an opportunity for HBCU marching bands to demonstrate their talent and learn from each other. Honda awards a total of $200,000 to each of the eight schools that perform. Lincoln University, for example, will take home $20,000 to be spent on equipment or uniform upgrades.

LU band director Roland Green said that the chance to perform at the Honda Battle of the Bands is a great opportunity for the Orange Crush.

“We’re probably the youngest program participating this year, and we don’t have that long history that most other programs have,” he said. “It really gives us that chance to let us be recognized on the national stage and let people know that we’re doing good things in the music world here up north.”

Bethune Cookman University’s Marching Wildcats, known as the Pride, will also appear at the Honda Battle of the Bands 2016. The Pride is a highly regarded band that has made appearances at the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, in commercials, and even the 2002 film “Drumline.” They are led by B-CU alumnus and former Marching Wildcat Donovan V. Wells.

The Pride is known for the complex formations it creates on the field. “It’s kind of an organized madness,” Wells said, explaining that he conceptualizes the design first and then works backward to set up individual staging points.

“It’s a timely, tedious process,” he said, adding, “But it’s worth every moment of it when you do a formation and it all hits on one beat at the same time and the crowd notices and they respond to it.”

Wells said that he started performing with a marching band as early as middle school in Smithfield, Va. His passion for marching bands really took off when he started high school. The school had recently acquired a new band director who took things in an exciting direction.

“This was a guy that drove a Corvette and played in a band that had played behind a lot of stars,” Wells said. “When he took on the band it took on a new life, playing tunes that we heard on the radio on a daily basis. That sparked my interest, and I really took playing my instrument seriously.”

His efforts resulted in a scholarship to B-CU and the offer of spending his college years in sunny Daytona Beach, Fla. Now that the roles are reversed and Wells has the perspective of being the band director, he said that one of the foremost lessons that the Marching Wildcats learns is time management.

“When you’re in a band you learn how to manage your practices and your studies,” Wells said. “I think any student that gets in any band program, but especially a disciplined, organized band program that keeps them pretty busy, they’ll learn how to manage a whole lot of aspects of their life.”

Xavier Burch, a B-CU graduating senior from Durham, N.C., who was offered a scholarship to play with the Pride, concurred. “You can try to amp yourself up before a performance, but if you haven’t been practicing then most likely you’re not going to do well in performance,” Burch said. “So [I take it as a] life lesson where I need to polish my craft in whatever I’m doing, so when it’s time for me to be in front of somebody, I’m prepared and I’m ready.”

Looking ahead to the Honda Battle of the Bands, Wells said that he would enjoy seeing what other HBCU marching bands had been working on over the year. “I’m a fan of just about every HBCU band, because all of us have our own identity,” Wells said. “It’s good to see all of the bands.”

Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at cmorris@diverseeducation.com.