The Senior Day/Band Day performances that took over my sub box this weekend can only signal one thing… The End. As this year’s marching season comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about all that’s happened this season… We’ve had band director video skit battles, Band Directors: retiring, some starting a new, some being let go and sadly, some moving on to greatness… We’ve also had some shocking matchup results, some shocking personnel issues, huge social media marketing campaigns from many HBCU Bands (finally), major news media announcing “HBCU Rankings” and Honda Selection surprises! It’s been an eventful year to say the least. We will touch on many of these happenings as we explore the 2017 Season by conference.
The independent category is unique as it holds bands from different football conferences and bands that have no football teams at all. Tennessee State University is one of the best bands in the country but due to their football schedule, they are somewhat marginalized in the band world. We covered this issue in a recent article: “OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND: The Parable of Tennessee State” TSU’s AOB has had another stellar year and, though under relatively new leadership, seems to be maintaining its legacy well. Talladega College began the year on a great note with a solid Queen City performance and has maintained throughout the year. The skits created by Talladega’s director and Southern University’s director that were created to build anticipation for a band battle which featured both bands were the funniest internet videos I’ve seen in a long time! I really enjoyed the creativity and the great sense of humor displayed by both directors. Old school trash talk has been upgraded in 2017. Get your media teams on point! Lol Edward Waters College seems to be doing quite well this year. The band battle which featured EWC vs SSU was a classic and I enjoyed both band’s contributions. These are some of the best small bands in the country!
1st – TSU
2nd – Talladega
3rd – EWC
The CIAA continues to be a conference in recovery but this year fielded some surprises! Fayetteville State’s Bronco Express is a program to watch out for. Under the direction of Dr. Jorim Reid, this young program has made major improvements and will be a force to be reckoned with in a few years. There are a couple other programs like Shaw and Johnson C. Smith that could possibly be headed in the right direction, but the serious lack of numbers and balanced instrumentation continues to be a road block. The issues that being a collegiate marching band with less than 10 trumpets pose… Elizabeth City State has lost some of its luster since losing Dr. Tomisha Brock as the director. They top my list this year but Fayetteville State is quickly approaching. On the other hand, Winston Salem State, the largest program in the conference, is probably one of the best bands in the conference but continues to be the biggest disappointment at the same time. Lead by Dr. Michael Magruder, on paper, I am beginning to believe this program is student ran. I’ve seen what Dr. Magruder is capable of and this product doesn’t measure up. Seems to be a lack of attention to detail that holds “The Red Sea Of Sound” just below the bar.
1st – Elizabeth City State
2nd (tie) – Winston-Salem State
2nd (tie) – Fayetteville State
I’d like to go on the record to state in 5 years the SIAC conference will be the most competitive conference in HBCU bands. I know that sounds crazy today, but if you pay attention to what’s happening, it’s all lining up… Miles College continues to be a force to be reckoned with, in and out of the SIAC. Kentucky State surprised me this year! I was very impressed with their sound and overall presentation. Benedict College has had another strong year, once again performing better than most of the conference on the field. Central State continues to be right in the middle. If more attention to detail is given, to refine the sound, this program would be at the top of the list. Then we have Clark Atlanta, under the direction of Dr. Tomisha Brock. Based off of what she was able to do In N.C. I see big things happening at Clark in about 3 to 5 years. But there’s more… This year introduced a new President to Allen University in Columbia , S.C. with a plan to first bring a band to the university, lead by legendary director Mr. Eddie Ellis, to assist with recruitment and marketing then introduce football. Their ideal conference is the SIAC. Knowing Mr. Ellis’s penchant for recruiting great talent, I see the new Allen University Band as a formidable program in 5 years, potentially topping the list! I would argue that Tuskegee (The Grambling of the SIAC with it’s history and prestige) and Morehouse are a good arranger and a good recruitment push away from being formidable programs themselves. With the injection of excitement and attention that Allen University’s new band will potentially give this conference, maybe the other college presidents will decide to support their programs just as much?
1st – Miles
2nd – Benedict
3rd – Kentucky State
The great thing about this year’s MEAC is that for the first time in a while it was not easy to rank the bands like in years past. “The Cadillac of Bands” Bethune Cookman College still tops the list as the best at this sport called marching band. Few will argue that The Wildcats have a formula that works and they appear to be sticking to it. FAMU made larger steps towards reclaiming their title this year. The Rattlers fielded the largest ensemble since “the incident” and have made huge gains in recapturing the mystique and sound of “America’s Band”. The NC A&T Marching Machine was consistent at maintaining their reign as one of the top MEAC bands and the most creative HBCU band in the country. Hampton University was able to steal some of that “Aggie Pride” by welcoming the talents of former A&T assistant band director and arranger, Dr. Thomas Jones back home to HU as the new Director of Bands. Since Dr. Jones took a seat at the helm, The Pirates have unloaded a full throated online and offline recruitment push that is sure to pay off in huge ways. I’m Looking forward to seeing this program grow to be one of the conference’s best. This year, the band that surprised me the most was the Norfolk State University Spartan Legion! The Legion started off the year ranking high amongst the best of the best at The Queen City Battle Of The Bands. NSU has followed up with consistently solid performances all year. It seems The Legion has returned. NCCU had a great year as well! One more awesome recruitment year is all thats needed to elevate this program to that next level. Savannah State has been turning heads for the last three years but this year solidified their position as a band not to be underestimated. With a clean and unique sound, this band was ready for any and all challengers. I can honestly say, the competition is finally picking up again in the MEAC. This year’s biggest disappointment was not seeing the growth from South Carolina State University that I was expecting. The Marching 101 started the year in good form, participating in the SWAC/MEAC Battle of the bands and game against Southern University which, to the surprise of many, did not end in total annihilation. The 101 held their own in the band battle and game then fielded arguably the better halftime presentation. Unfortunately, it’s been up and down since then. One week the band is aggressively solid from top to bottom, the next week, music is not well learnt and holes are all over the field. A solid NCA&T performance in Orangeburg added to the rollercoaster of a year for The 101. The rollercoaster continued this week as The 101 ended the season with over 600 students participating in their “Band Day” activities, (which is great!), while the director is on suspension for undisclosed reasons… Up and down… up and down…
1st – Bethune Cookman
2nd – North Carolina A&T
3rd – Norfolk State
The Swac is where the action is at. I love the competitive aura that encompasses every band in this conference. The Texas Bands, in particular, have been on point this year. Texas Southern has been one of my favorite bands since seeing them for the first time at their first Honda appearance. This year I see that same intensity and drive. Prairie View A&M, boasting larger numbers than in recent years, has had a stand out year as well. Some of this season’s most talked about matchups have included one of these bands. Southern University has had another great year. SU is probably the HBCU band with the largest social media following. Whatever they are paying for their branding and marketing is money well spent. Southern University still holds on to its spot at the top of the conference but that gap has closed by some unlikely challengers. Jackson State University started the year with an appearance at the Queen City Battle Of The Bands which resulted in some off the field behavior that lead to their Band Director, Dr. O’neill Sanford, being dismissed. The Boom had a relatively quiet year following such a rocky start but continued to perform at the same caliber that made their band a household name. However, out of sight out of mind, so Alcorn State University is one of the bands that have solidified their place in many band head conversations about the best of the SWAC. Coming off of consistently solid seasons, in previous years, Alcorn was once again a formidable program this year. Alabama State had a rocky start to this year with a 7th place finish at the Queen City Battle of The Bands. Some of the issues I noted from that first performance plagued The Hornets the entire year… Some did not. ASU seems to be a band that is not the best in any one specific area. Not music, marching, stands catalog, etc… So it seems to fit right below the top tier but right above the bottom tier bands every year. However, they certainly made up for those issues with a 2018 Honda invite!
1st – Southern
2nd – Prairie View A&M
3rd – Alcorn