The annual Southern Heritage Classic is far more than a football game. Each year, on the Saturday morning of the game at 9 AM, the Southern Heritage Classic Parade begins from the corner of Park Avenue and Haynes Street, and proceeds along Park through Orange Mound to the Lamar-Airways Shopping Center. The parade usually includes the Jackson State University and Tennessee State University bands, along with majorettes, drill teams,drumlines, Cowboys and Steelers fan clubs, car clubs and many others. There used to be more marching bands in the parade as well, but for the last few years, the parade has conflicted with the Southern Heritage Classic Battle of the Bands in Whitehaven, so there have been fewer bands recently, but the hometown favorites, the Melrose High School Sound of the Mound Marching Band always closes out the parade. It’s always a lot of fun, family and food.
Although the annual Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis is a football game, Black college football classics are never JUST football games. It’s just as much about the pageantry and battling of the drumlines, bands and majorettes, the cameraderie and fun, good food and general good times. The Jackson State University Sonic Boom of the South is consistently one of the best marching bands in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and Tennessee State’s Aristocrat of Bands is also well-known and well-regarded. In addition to the mandatory halftime show, bands from Black colleges often engage in an after-game ritual known as the “Fifth Quarter”, in which the two bands compete for crowd acclaim by playing tunes back and forth at each other after the game. Although this tradition has been somewhat restricted and shortened in recent years, it is still very much a part of the Black college football tradition.
The Tennessee State University Aristocrat of Bands marches down Park Avenue in Orange Mound during the Southern Heritage Classic Parade in Memphis on Saturday, 9/14/13
Afterwards, I drove back to the hotel and registered for the conference, which was being held in the ballroom on the top floor. Mr. Serv On was there from Louisiana, Cowboy from Buck Wild Productions, C. Wakeley from Florida who used to manage Bloodraw, a rapper and producer named Blacktime from Cincinnati but now living in Nashville, and many others. I was on the initial panel about the pros and cons of getting a major label deal, and Freddy Hydro arrived from Memphis and joined us during it. I hung around the hotel lobby networking after that until it was time for me to go to the ball game at LP Field.
The stadium was visible from the ballroom of the hotel, so it wasn’t far away at all, but I had not expected the $20 cost of parking when I got there. The Tennessee State Aristocrat of Bands marched into the stadium first, rocking their cadence “Psychotic Funk”, and soon, the Human Jukebox of Southern University was entering the stadium from the other side as well. They proceeded to battle back and forth, but the John Merritt Classic had evidently sold advertising over the scoreboard, so every time there was a time out, they began drowning out the bands with commercials, and we fans couldn’t enjoy the marching bands, which is half the fun of a Black college football game. Tennessee State ended up winning the game, although they had trailed Southern for much of it, and there was then a really good “Fifth Quarter” of band battling afterwards. It was about 10 PM when I left to stadium area, and I still had to run back by the Maxwell House to get my baggage and check out.
Tom Skeemask from Memphis had pulled up in front of the hotel and was just checking in as I was leaving. We talked briefly, and then I headed out to the Mall at Green Hills to eat at the Cheesecake Factory. College football highlights and results were flashing across the TV screen as I waited for my hamburger and french fries, and then I began the three-hour journey back to Memphis, made more difficult by my extreme fatigue, which made me have to stop several times for energy drinks. I arrived home about 3 AM and went straight to bed.