Block Us Up! – Mr. Morris, it is indeed an honor to welcome you to Block Us Up! You have contributed greatly to the lives of so many students across the nation that I almost don’t know where to begin! You have always been one of the greats when it comes to color guard and band auxiliary and I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us about the art form.
Mr. Morris – Thank you, it is a pleasure to speak with you Mr. Stackhouse.
Block Us Up! – Before we get into it, would you mind sharing with us a little about your background, your college years, and how that all shaped and prepared you for the position you hold today?
Mr. Morris – Well, while attending HS in Adel, Georgia I was actually a brass player. Not many people know that I played the Trombone in my HS band. Even though I enjoyed playing in the band, my heart was always in guard work and as a result, I really wanted to be on the color guard. Of course, because I was a pretty good musician, Our band director wanted me to stay on my instrument so that’s what I did. I spent my senior year as a band student at Tift Co. High School, in Tifton, GA. In my spare time, I taught myself how to use the flag. I got so good that I began training the girls who wanted to try out for flag and wouldn’t you know that every girl I trained made the team.
Block Us Up! – Oh wow, So you began teaching guard in High School?
Mr. Morris – Yes, in 1975 I began teaching color guard and was totally self taught. Since my HS director wouldn’t allow me to march with the guard, I began looking for other ways to pursue that passion. I tried out for several Drum Corp International groups. I marched colorguard with the Madison Scouts out of Madison, Wisconsin and a group called South Wind Drum Corp from Montgomery, Alabama.
Block Us Up! – What was the Drum & Bugle Corp experience like?
Mr. Morris – I loved it. During those years I was, unknowingly, gaining the knowledge and experience I would need to sustain my career for years to come. DCI was an entirely different experience from what I was used to. I was used to the traditional style of march and everything that entailed but DCI proved to be just what I needed to strengthen my skill set. I was learning different styles and techniques while broadening my understanding of guard work. At the same time I was learning the vocabulary that is necessary in order to operate within the artform. The experience was priceless. It was also interesting to see so many males participating at that level compared to most traditional HS and college band programs.
Block Us Up! – The issue of males participating in auxiliaries has always been controversial for the hbcu band culture. As a male color guard instructor what are your thoughts on the issue?
Mr. Morris – To me it’s about style. If you have a dance team that utilizes a more feminine style of dance then I believe that team should be all female. If you have a team that is more masculine in its approach, which I have yet to see by the way, you’d expect to see mostly male performers. It’s like broadway… You wouldn’t see males performing like women in broadway productions, unless the play specifically called for that part. At the same time, if males choose to dance, they’ve got to be the absolute best out there. That’s just the way it is. That pertains to color guard too. I’ve always had to be better than the rest. If I was average, I would have never made any of the lines I’ve performed with.
Block Us Up! – After high school you attended universities in several regions of the country. What were your experiences and how did each school shape and prepare you professionally?
Mr. Morris – Well during the ’81, ’82, and ’83 school years I marched with Fort Valley State. I then transferred to Valdosta State. I enjoyed both schools though the styles were very different. I was always comfortable performing either style. However, at VSU I was able to put what I learned in DCI to practice. Since then I’ve become an expert at incorporating skills and concepts from both styles into my work. After VSU I attended the Florida School of the Arts, majoring in dance. This prepared me for my next challenge which was Broadway. I transferred to City College University, in New York City. There I received my BFA in Dance and was fortunate to have a successful career as a dancer on Broadway. I performed with The 7 Principles, The Kennedy Dancers, and studied at the Alvin Ailey Contemporary Dance School. I also studied at Jacob’s Pillow under the tutelage of Dr. Reginald Yates and Katherine Dunham. I would have stayed in New York if I had never met Eddie Ellis.
Block Us Up! – Yes, You began working with Mr. Ellis as his color guard instructor at Morris Brown College in 2000. How did that come about?
Mr. Morris – I would often come back home, to south Georgia, whenever I had a break. During these times I would be hired to work with the local high school color guard teams doing clinics and camps. For a while I was the Color Guard Coach at Monroe High School, under Band Director Mr. Thetheus White in Albany GA. During those years Monroe High School would consistently compete in Bands Of America. I was excited to compete on that level. I would also do work for Mr. Darren Johnson, who was Band Director at Dougherty High School at the time. On one occasion Mr. Johnson introduced me to Mr. Eddie Ellis, who was Band Director at Morris Brown College. We spoke for quite a while about my background and skill set which ended up being an interview, unbeknownst to me. This conversation led to him presenting me with a job offer, on the spot, to be his color guard instructor. I really had no intentions of leaving New York but since Mr. Ellis was a fellow brother of Phi Beta Sigma, and needed help with his guard, I felt like I had to help him out, because a good Sigma man always helps a brother in need. So I moved down to Atlanta and became the Morris Brown Color Guard Coach. I was somewhat familiar with Atlanta as I had once performed Aida with the Atlanta Opera and The Ballethnic Dance Company.
Block Us Up! – Working with such a legendary director must have been quite an experience. Could you describe your experiences and challenges with transitioning from the world of modern dance and ballet to HBCU Marching Bands?
Mr. Morris – Working at Morris Brown was a great experience. There is nothing that I would change about it. We had some very good bands during those years. We traveled extensively, performed with major recording artists, and I got to be apart of a major feature film – “Drumline”. It was all very exciting and life changing. Those are moments I’ll never forget. As far as transitioning from dance to college bands is concerned, the content wasn’t really that different. I was taught to perform… To perform within the confines of different styles. HBCU Bands, of course, have a different style, but as a dancer I’ve always had to learn different styles. You had to or you would not be able to pay your rent! Every job didn’t come in one style. So transitioning between styles has never been a challenge for me. I will say, I do not like the role of auxiliary teams in the HBCU style. Coming from the world of drum corp where the color guard is highly featured to watching many band directors push their color guards to the back and off to the side of the field , almost as if they were an afterthought, has always irritated me. I’ve always wanted to change that about the HBCU Bands. There are so many ways a guard can be used to enhance a show! It’s really a shame that even today many band directors still choose to not push the envelope, visually. There really is no excuse when there are high school groups out performing some of our famed programs. It’s really sad.
Block Us Up! – To that point, I read somewhere that you are affiliated with a new organization that’s trying to change that… Could you speak on that please?
Mr. Morris – Absolutely, I was invited to join the HBCU Auxiliary & Dance Directors Association. It’s a new organization that was scheduled to have its inaugural conference this spring, in Atlanta, but of course it has been postponed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The conference will be hosted by several facilitators and clinicians from around the country. There will be coaches from Prairie View A&M, Alabama State, Norfolk State, NCA&T, Albany State, SC State, and many others! All collegiate & high school dance, colorguard, or majorette performers out there, be on the look out for this event! It will include engaging workshops, interactive clinics, and a culminating banquet with the coaches and members of your favorite HBCU Dance and Auxiliary lines.
Block Us Up! – That sounds like a great endeavor and just what the culture needs right now. If there is ever anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to reach out… Now In 2005 you accepted another job offer from Mr. Ellis. This time to become the Color Guard Director at South Carolina State University. Since then, you have served at the pleasure of two other directors while in this role. How would you sum up your experiences at SC State?
Mr. Morris – Overall, this has been a wonderful experience. I’ve been here through the good times and the bad times and it has all been worth it. We’ve performed before some magnificent audiences over the years. One of my most memorable moments was when we performed “The Flower Drill” at the Honda Battle Of The Bands. The way the crowd responded was just amazing. The kids really executed during that show. Two of the lowest moments of my tenure was when we lost Mr. Sarjeant and Mr. Knighten. They were two of the best and it was a tremendous loss to our program. Today we are thriving under new leadership and I’m as excited as ever about what’s to come for The Marching 101.
Block Us Up! – Mr Morris it has been an honor having you here at Block US Up! Our goal is to bridge the gap between band fans and the band directors and you contributed to this effort in a great way today. Thank you for this awesome gesture and thank you for your, more than, three decades of improving bands and improving the lives of students all around the country. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Mr. Morris – I would like to encourage those who are interested in dance, guard work, or any of the performing arts to; remember to approach life on your own terms, never allow someone to say what you can’t do, and never settle for anything less than your absolute best. If you work hard, become knowledgeable about your content, and put God first… The sky is the limit.
Mr. Eddie Morris is a highly sought after adjudicator, choreographer, and clinician for all levels of the performing arts. He’s a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Professional Music Fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi Professional Business Fraternity, and The Masonic Order. He’s performed with legendary dance companies, The South Wind Drum and Bugle Corp, and The Madison Scouts. After traveling the world as a professional dancer, he has now committed his life to educating youth in dance and flag technique. He is currently Director of Color Guard for the South Carolina State University Marching 101 Band.