The Sparkling Diamondettes are a fairly-recent Memphis majorette squad, and they have a drumline that plays the cadences for the young girls to march to during parades, such as the Southern Heritage Classic parade in Orange Mound, 9/14/13
Booker T. Washington is Memphis’ oldest Black high school, and Memphis’ oldest Black high school marching band. Like Manassas, BTW has been through some rough times with lower enrollment, particularly since Cleaborn Homes was torn down, but their band seems to be on the way back up in numbers, based on what I could see at the Southern Heritage Classic Parade, 9/14/13
The Cowborettes are one of Memphis’ better-known majorette squads, and although they usually compete without drummers, they always march with a drumline when they’re in a parade. In this year’s Southern Heritage Classic Parade, they marched with the Blood Sweat & Tears drumline.
Although I was always interested in music, my interest in marching bands and drumlines has a lot to do with a basketball game that Bartlett played against Fayette-Ware High School back in 1984. It was Fayette-Ware’s basketball homecoming that night, and their young drumline stood against the wall of the old gym in Somerville and played a string of funky cadences for the majorettes, ending with a rousing version of Run DMC’s “It’s Like That and That’s The Way It Is” with its rudimental snare breakdown. (In one of the odder coincidences in my life, I later attended UT-Martin with one of the drummers who played that night, Edward Thompson Jr.) Anyway, over the years I’ve kept up with Fayette-Ware’s bands, which are usually first-rate year after year, and this year’s seems good as always. They drew a considerable amount of cheering and applause as they came down Park Avenue during the parade.
The marching band from Chattanooga’s historic Howard High School marches in the Southern Heritage Classic Parade on Park Avenue in Memphis’ Orange Mound neighborhood, Saturday 9/14/13. Howard High School has been noted for their excellent bands for many years.
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
The Jackson State University Sonic Boom of the South marching band is usually the first band in the annual Southern Heritage Classic Parade in Orange Mound, and is extremely popular, as there have always been a number of Memphis musicians in that band, and many of the Memphis high school band programs are led by educators who attended Jackson State.
On the Sunday before Labor Day, I decided to drive up to Nashville to see Bethune-Cookman University take on Tennessee State in the annual John Merritt Classic at LP Field. The game is held each year in honor of John Merritt, who for many years was the head football coach at Tennessee A & I/Tennessee State. The weather was perfect for a football game, and the battle between the two bands was definitely worth the drive. I was amazed at Bethune-Cookman’s snare line, all of whom had tambourines and cowbells attached to their snare drums, which was unusual. FOr some reason, the traditional “Fifth Quarter” battle between the bands was limited to 10 minutes per band. After the game, I had intended to go to M. L. Rose Burgers, but although they stay open until 2 AM, I learned that they don’t sell burgers after 1 AM, so I ended up having to go to The Slider House in Midtown Nashville near the Vanderbilt campus, since they stay open until 3 AM every night. Then, after stopping by Cafe Coco for a latte, I hit the road back to Memphis.
The Millennium Madness Drill Team and Drum Squad is a Memphis-based youth organization that provides opportunities for young people to be involved in drill team dancing and drumming, and is one of only a few such organizations that still involve young men as drummers, sadly. Although Memphis has a number of majorette teams and drill teams, the overwhelming majority of them don’t have drummers and do their routines to prerecorded compact discs. Millennium Madness travels the country, entering and winning a number of competitions against drill teams from many different cities. Their performance at this year’s Memphis Music and Heritage Festival held the audience spellbound.
Friday night was only the second week of the high school football season in Memphis, and Melrose High School was playing Booker T. Washington High School at BTW’s stadium in South Memphis. Although the weather was extremely hot and sticky, a good crowd showed up for the game, and both schools had brought their marching bands. Melrose’s band is called the Sound of the Mound in honor of the Orange Mound neighborhood where the school is located, and this year’s version shows a considerable amount of talent and potential. Booker T. Washington’s band seems smaller and more youthful this year, but they also have something to work with.
Sadly, the football game continued a trend I’m seeing this year of one-sided blowouts. All three of the North Memphis Classic games last week ended in lopsided scores, and Melrose won last night’s game 64-6. Perhaps out of frustration, a young man, evidently a BTW supporter, threatened to bring a gun to the stadium and shoot the Melrose band, which led to the latter having a sheriff’s escort out of the stadium at the end.