One of the awesome things about Black college football is that the football battle on the field is matched by a battle between the two bands in the stands. This is especially true when the bands are two of the best in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), such as Grambling’s World-Famed Marching Band and Pine Bluff’s Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South. Not only did the bands battle back and forth during the course of the afternoon, but the various instrumental sections did as well, particularly Grambling’s Chocolate Thunder drumline and Pine Bluff’s K.R.A.N.K. drumline. The weather was beautiful as well, and Grambling’s much-improved football team had no trouble demolishing Pine Bluff, no small feat considering that last year’s Grambling team did not win a game.
Homecoming Day at Grambling State University always begins early, with a parade through the town of Grambling that begins at 9 in the morning. People start lining up earlier than that, hoping to reserve a good spot to see the bands, majorettes, drummers and floats. By tradition, the Grambling State University Marching Band always comes first, followed by the Grambling High School band, and then there are always a number of bands from various parts of Louisiana and Texas, floats from various campus and town organizations, majorette squads and classic cars and vehicles. The largest and densest crowd is always in the center of campus between the McCall Dining Hall and the Favrot Student Union, and the parade route usually ends at Central Avenue and Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones Drive. This year, on a hill near that intersection, two bands from Shreveport, Fair Park and Booker T. Washington got into a band battle after the parade had ended. Although there seem to be fewer bands these days, the parade is still a lot of fun.
Despite Memphis’ well-deserved basketball reputation, Memphis is also traditionally a strong football town, particularly at the prep level. People turn out to see both the ball game, and also the battle between the bands and drumlins as well, and certain stadiums are historic locations for Memphis Black high school football, such as Booker T. Washington Stadium in South Memphis or Melrose Stadium in the center of Orange Mound. On Friday, September 19, 2014, I went out to the latter stadium to see the game between Whitehaven High School and the Melrose High School Golden Wildcats. Both schools brought their marching bands to the game, which isn’t always the case in Memphis these days, but Melrose seems to have declined in numbers in recent years, and its band, though it sounded good, was far smaller than I remembered in the past. Whitehaven, on the other hand, is one of the city’s premier high schools, academically, athletically and musically. Its band marches more than 100 members, and looks and sounds better than many colleges. The football game was a runaway for Whitehaven, but the band battle was more evenly matched, although I would have to give Whitehaven the advantage there too. Both bands pleased the crowd by playing a number of current hits, including Memphian Snootie Wild’s “Yayo”.