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 Talladega College Marching Band is actually quite good, and has been a frequent visitor to Memphis over the last several years, appearing in the Southern Heritage Classic Parade, local band battles, and the Whitehaven Christmas Parade last year.
Each year, Southern Heritage Classic day begins with a parade down Park Avenue in Orange Mound, featuring a number of bands, drumlines, majorettes, drill teams, custom cars, floats, Cowboys and Steelers fan clubs, and, of course, politicians, both those already in office, and those running for office. The DJs at Club Memphis always set up their equipment on the parking lot out front and start the day off with good southern soul, and by 10 AM, both sides of the street are usually lined with spectators. The parade starts at Melrose High School and proceeds west to the intersection of Park and Airways, where it disbands.
Friday night I headed down to Melrose to see the Melrose and Kirby game, but I discovered when I got there that Kirby High School had not brought their band to the game, and since I had already seen Melrose this year, I headed on to Crump Stadium to see the Central/Whitehaven game. Both of these schools have relatively large bands this year, and both were in full battle mode all night. Central’s band is known as the Sound of Midtown, and is a young program that seems to be on the right track. Whitehaven, known as the Sounds of Perfection, is an incredibly-large high school band that could easily rival many colleges, and is one of the best high-school bands in the country. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the tense, close football game, there was no “fifth quarter” afterwards, with Whitehaven’s band leaving the stadium immediately after time had run out.
Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana at Monroe have only played football against each other since 2007, and have only met three times, despite the fact that the schools are only 30 miles apart. Such were the legacies of college segregation, but when the Tigers and Warhawks started scheduling each other, the event became known as the I-20 Classic, since that interstate connects the two campuses (as well as a third, Louisiana Tech, for that matter). Grambling hasn’t fared well in any of their meetings with ULM, but I decided to drive down to Monroe for the day to attend the game, hear the bands (particularly Grambling’s), and the check out the tailgating and festivities. Although the weather was somewhat hot, it was a perfectly beautiful evening for football, and there was a huge crowd of people tailgating and partying outside the stadium, which is directly beside Bayou DeSiard. Unfortunately, Grambling’s team has been struggling this year, and they lost the game 48-7, and there was very little band activity and no Fifth Quarter. Grambling’s Chocolate Thunder drumline played a couple of cadences in the stands, and the full band played an abbreviated halftime show, and a couple of tunes in the stands, and that was all. 100.1 The Beat was advertising all kinds of “official” after-parties after the game, one at Club Encore, one at the Members’ Club, one at Club Siroc, and an old-school set with a band at the Monroe Civic Center. I would have liked to have gone to any or all of them, but as the drive back to Memphis was going to take five hours, I grabbed a frozen yogurt from Orange Leaf and hit the road.
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.
Because of a late-afternoon rehearsal (and the threat of rain), I decided not to go down to the Othar Turner Picnic at Gravel Springs near Senatobia, so when I saw that there was a high-school football classic going on at Crump Stadium in Midtown, I decided to go and check it out. I had missed the 3 PM game with Manassas, but when I arrived Douglass High School was getting blown out by Craigmont High. I had hoped to see Douglass’ band, but they sadly weren’t there. Craigmont however brought their band, and while their band didn’t perform at halftime, their drumline did.
Traditional marches have always been important to the Jackson State University Sonic Boom of the South band, and that culture has clearly carried over to the Mississippi All-Star Alumni Band. They opened their battle against the Memphis Mass Band at Oakhaven with the John C. Heed march “In Storm and Sunshine”, which I first heard played by JSU a few years ago.