Saturday, April 21, 2018

Information About Grambling University's Marching Band And An Excerpt Of Smithsonian Article About Jackson University's Marching Band

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a four part series on the rivalry between the marching bands of two Historical Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU): Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band and Jackson State University Sonic Boom Of The South Marching Band.

This post provides information about Grambling State University's marching band and presents an excerpt of a 2017 Smithsonian University article about Jackson State University's marching band.

Click for Part I of this series. Part I presents general information about Grambling State University and general information about Southern State University (presented in alphabetical order). This post also provides an excerpt of an article about the rivalry between these two historical Black universities' football teams and their marching bands.

Click for Part III of this series. Part III showcases a YouTube video of the 2017 halftime show between Jackson State University's marching band vs Grambling State University's marching band (from the perspective of a Jackson State videographer). Selected comments from this video's discussion thread are also included in this post.

Click for Part IV of this series. Part IV showcases a YouTube video of the 2017 halftime show between Grambling State University's marching band vs Jackson State University's marching band (from the perspective of a Grambling State videographer). Selected comments from this video's discussion thread are also included in this post.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyright remains with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to all those who are affiliated with these universities and their marching bands.
Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

Marching band

"GSU's [Grambling University's] World Famed Tiger Marching Band is a historic marching band with many special accolades and accomplishments. For instance, they are the only HBCU marching band in the nation to perform at two consecutive U.S. presidential inaugurations.[12] "World Famed" was founded in 1926 and serves as one of the premier ambassadors of the university. One of the band's most anticipated traditions is the annual nationally televised "Battle of The Bands" against Southern University's Human Jukebox marching band during Bayou Classic weekend in the Superdome. The yearly event attracts tens of thousands of alumni, fans, and spectators.[13]

"World Famed" is led by two drum majors and features a danceline from the university's Orchesis Dance Company."...

"Grambling State University's marching band is officially known as the GSU Tiger Marching Band or as the Tiger Marching Band. It is often billed as the "World Famed Tiger Marching Band".[1][2][3]

In 1967 and 1968, the band performed in Super Bowls I and II, respectively, prior to the NFL championship game being officially called The Super Bowl. Grambling's 1967 performance has been named "One of the Top 10 Super Bowl Halftime Shows" by Sports Illustrated magazine.

In 1972, the marching Tigers played in Monrovia, Liberia, at the inauguration of Liberian President William R. Tolbert.

In 1976, the GSU band performed in the first-ever Pioneer Bowl in Tokyo, Japan.

In 1977, GSU World Famed Tiger Marching Band performed in Mirage Bowl, Tokyo, Japan.


In 1998, the band was featured in Super Bowl XXXII, alongside Boyz II Men, Martha Reeves and Smokey Robinson.

In 1981, the band appeared in "Marching Band/Coke Is It," an award-winning television commercial developed for Coca-Cola USA by Burrell Communications Group.

In 1982, Grambling State University World Famed Tiger Marching Band was Special Guest to the Emperor of Japan, perform in Osaka, Japan and half-time performers at the Tokyo, Japan Mirage Bowl game.


In 2006, "Season of the Tiger," a six-part docudrama aired, following members of the Grambling State University (LA) marching band and football team during the 2005-2006 football season. Produced by DAFT films and Black Entertainment Television (BET), "Season of the Tiger" was the second BET reality show to focus on life at a historically black institution (HBCU), and the first to highlight the competitive environment of marching bands at some HBCUs.

In 2007, the band performed in the award-winning Denzel Washington film, The Great Debators.

In 2009, GSU World Famed Tiger Marching Band was included in the inaugural parade for U.S. President Barack Obama.[4]

In the 118th Tournament of Roses Parade (2007), Grambling State's marching band was the marching band in the Star Wars Spectacular, in which all members were wearing Imperial officer uniforms. This was the band's second time in the Tournament of Roses Parade: 1980 being the first time an HBCU band was selected to march and lead in the Tournament of Roses Parade.


In 2013, the band was included in the second inaugural parade for U.S. President Barack Obama.[6]

In 2016, Vice Media released a documentary covering the significance of GSU's marching band and the popularity of the annual battle against Southern University's Human Jukebox in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.[8]


The Tiger Marching Band have an average of 160 students with a grade points average of 3.00 or higher each year."

From March to the Joyous, Raucous Beat of the Sonic Boom of the South
College football seasons come and go, but the joyous thunder of Jackson State’s iconic marching band rolls on
By Richard Grant, Photographs by Zack Arias, January 2017
“It takes two charter planes to move the Sonic Boom of the South from its home in Jackson, Mississippi, to the first event of the season, in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 230 musicians are traveling with four band directors, support and medical staff, a security detail, a social media and video unit, cheerleaders and a team of swivel-hipped female dancers called the Prancing J-Settes.

The Sonic Boom of the South is the marching band of Jackson State University, and a leading exponent of the high-stepping, high-energy, razzle-dazzle style that has developed in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the Deep South. Known as “show style,” it combines the military marching band tradition with funky syncopated rhythms and elements of jazz, R&B, pop and hip-hop. The bands play with tremendous power and incorporate tightly choreographed dance routines into elaborate field drills. This unique American art form has honed and perfected itself over many decades and is now breaking through into wider cultural prominence.


“We don’t have the very best musicians, or the most precise drill formations,” says O’Neill Sanford, the director of bands at Jackson State. “But no one else can bring the same energy and showmanship, and electrify a crowd of 110,000 people like we can,” he says. “That’s what everyone wants to see.”


The 100-plus members of the [University Of Nevada, Las Vegas] marching band are getting into their uniforms behind the stadium, looking very casual and relaxed, when the Sonic Boom’s mighty drums start up across the parking lot. The vibrations from the big, heavy bass drums, nine in all, are so powerful that they set off a car alarm 70 yards away. The snares sound like rattling machine-gun fire. “Holy s---,” says a big UNLV tuba player, scrambling to put on the rest of his uniform.

Then the long, gleaming procession comes into view, all polished brass, swaying helmet plumes, and flashy blue-and-white uniforms. The percussionists have dyed their tongues blue with Kool-Aid and candy (an old tradition) and many of them have a fierce, warlike expression on their faces as they march past the stunned, half-dressed UNLV band members.

Leading the Boom are four lean, handsome, high-strutting drum majors in massive, plumed shako hats, coursing with so much energy that it seems their bodies can barely contain it. Their names are Joe “Rogue Dynasty” Williams III, Abraham “The Prototype” Duffie, Tyler “Mr. Blue Phi” Battle and Giann “Mr. 704” Soto. On the Jackson State campus, their social status eclipses that of any athlete. Celebrated for their dancing skills and showmanship, the drum majors also have a vital leadership role in the band, acting as field commanders for the band directors.

“We’re a paramilitary organization with tight discipline and a chain of command,” says Williams. “We can also make a whole stadium get up and feel good.


Behind the drum majors, swinging their hips and smiling, are ten young women known as the Prancing J-Settes. They’re wearing silver boots, blue-and-silver capes, and showgirl leotards with sequins and tassels. Nicknamed “The Thrill of a Million Eyes,” the J-Settes were recently voted the best female danceline of all the historically black college marching bands.

These dancelines developed out of the drum majorette tradition. They gave up batons to concentrate on dance. The J-Settes have a wide repertoire of moves, ranging from elegant interpretations of symphonic music to high-speed booty-shaking and go-go routines. They claim to have pioneered a raunchy pelvic thrusting move known as “bucking” that has since become widespread in dancelines.

In the Las Vegas crowd of 18,575 are a few hundred alumni from historically black colleges. They wear the names of alma maters on caps and T-shirts—Jackson State, Alcorn State, Grambling State, Mississippi Valley State, Tennessee State and a few others. Jermaine Rimmey went to Southern University in Baton Rouge and now lives in Las Vegas. “Jackson State are our biggest rivals, but I’m cheering for them today,” he says. “I can cook my Louisiana food out here, but I get homesick for bands and band culture.”

Asked to describe that culture, he says, “I hate to bring race into it, but at a predominantly white game, people leave their seats at halftime and get a hot dog or whatever. At an HBCU game, nobody leaves at halftime, because that’s when the bands come on. We support our football teams, but the rivalry, the excitement, the arguing and talking smack, it’s all about the bands.”

On YouTube, and at websites like and, Rimmey follows all the marching bands in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, or SWAC, which extends from Alabama to East Texas and is famous for its show-style bands. Florida A&M (FAMU), outside the SWAC, is the biggest and most famous band of all, says Rimmey, but it still hasn’t recovered from the 2011 hazing death of drum major Robert Champion, and the suspension that followed. (As a pledge, Champion was required to run down the center of a bus while being punched, kicked and assaulted by more senior band members, and he died from the blows. Following that incident, HBCUs have cracked down on the hazing traditions in their marching bands.)

As Rimmey and his friends wait for halftime, they watch and groan as the Jackson State Tigers get demolished on the football field by the UNLV Rebels. At halftime, the score is 42-10. The stadium announcer warns the fans against leaving their seats, because of the special show coming up, “with one of the best marching bands in the land.”

The UNLV band comes out first, marching corps-style. They play a cheesy old polka known as “The Chicken Song,” and do a little leg kick move when they go into “YMCA” by the Village People. The drum majorettes catch their batons, the band doesn’t make any mistakes, but by HBCU standards, it looks almost incredibly lame and lackluster.

The Sonic Boom, with double the numbers, lines up in crisp ranks at one end of the field. The drum majors stand to attention around the 20-yard line, then whistle, chant and swing their long maces over their heads. Suddenly the entire band is racing with a high-speed shuffle step, dizzying the eye by going in two directions at once and changing speeds, and then forming eight long straight lines that re-form as diagonals. This is the famous Tiger Run-On, and the Vegas crowd goes wild for it.


The origins of African-American marching bands can be traced back to the black regimental bands in the Union Army, and the brass bands that emerged in New Orleans after the Civil War. In the same postwar era, the first colleges and universities for African-Americans were created. From the earliest days of their existence, according to marching band historian William D. Lewis, black colleges and universities took great pride in their music and band programs, and played music in both the European and the vernacular American tradition.

The high-stepping pageantry of the modern show-style band seems to have evolved during practice sessions at Florida A&M University in 1946, under the band director William Foster. “We were just doing steps and high-knee lifts, and people thought that was the greatest thing on earth,” he once recalled. “I had a physical education teacher to help with the choreography, putting the steps to music...very shortly afterwards, other bands started doing it.”

At Jackson State, the seminal figure was the dapper William W. Davis, whose portrait hangs in two places today in the trophy-stuffed music building. An ex-Army bandsman, he went on to arrange music and play trumpet in Cab Calloway’s orchestra, before becoming JSU’s first band director, in 1948. Davis introduced jazz rhythms and Calloway-style showmanship to the 20-odd students in the marching band. By 1963, the band had swelled to 88 members, and they were playing Count Basie and Duke Ellington arrangements at football games.

In 1971, Davis was succeeded by Harold Haughton, who adopted the name Sonic Boom of the South, created the Tiger Run-On, and boosted the musicians to 160. “Marching bands were a big thing at HBCUs in the 1970s, but the real competitiveness was about football back then,” says Sanford. White universities in the South were very reluctant to recruit black athletes, so historically black schools were fielding football greats like Walter Payton, who played for Jackson State. Jerry Rice, the Hall of Fame wide receiver, played his college ball at a small HBCU called Mississippi Valley State University, from 1981 to 1984.

“During the 1980s, white colleges started letting black athletes in, and after that, they always took our best players away from us,” says Sanford. “People got fed up with it, the standard of football went down, and the emphasis switched to bands. No one wanted to take our musicians.”


Jarrett Carter Sr., founding editor of, wants to know why historically black schools haven’t managed to monetize their marching bands, at a time when they’ve never been more popular. The main problem, as he identifies it, is that social media is the primary venue for this popularity. YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and other companies are displaying band videos without paying for them and hogging the advertising income they generate.

Carter notes that HBCU bands have played Super Bowl halftimes and appeared in pop videos and reality shows. They were celebrated in the 2002 movie Drumline, which overcame a clunky story line to earn $56 million at the U.S. box office. Florida A&M was one of some 90 groups that marched in President Obama’s 2009 inaugural parade. Despite all this exposure, he writes, “many of these schools face dire economic straits.” He calls for HBCUs to get sponsors’ logos on band uniforms, sell paraphernalia, professionalize video production and start treating their bands as a valuable product with “hundreds of thousands of brand-loyal consumers.” Sanford strongly agrees. “Marching bands are a great public relations tool, but they’re also capable of generating serious financial resources. That’s what we need to start thinking about.”

This concludes Part II of this pancocojams series.

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