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”.
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.
Memphis musicians were shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of a young drummer, Mario “Yoggi” Stewart, but on September 10, a number of musicians and relatives came together to honor his memory in the most appropriate way possible, with music and song. The setting was the Blue Worm AKA The Blues Night Club, a neighborhood fixture on the backside of the Lamar/Airways Shopping Center in Orange Mound. The band was anchored by three drummers playing three sets on stage, with “Cowboy” Neal on guitar and my homeboy Danny Peterson on bass. I had intended to observe, enjoy and film, but I got called to the stage to play keyboards. Other guest musicians and singers included Tony Gentry, Deij’rah Terrell, Gerod Rayborn and Terry Wright. The night closed with a drummers’ shout shed in memory of Yoggi, and Cowboy thanking all of those who came out. It was a great night of Memphis music, with nothing but love and respect between the musicians.
Memphis has exceptional talent in all sports, but our city is particularly known for basketball, and much of this is due to the frequency and quality of street ball in the city. Each summer, the Orange Mound neighborhood sponsors a basketball tournament at a neighborhood park that pits the best hoopers from the neighborhood against each other. Although the competition can be fierce, it’s always nothing but good fun and good food. This year, Memphis R & B artist Iyse Gibson also performed a couple of songs for those who weren’t in the thick of the game.
The Star Steppers are yet another popular youth majorette program, and the drummers they marched with this year in the Southern Heritage Classic parade were the famous Baby Blues, who are probably Memphis’ best-known and most well-travelled youth drumline.
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.
Manassas High School was the second Black high school in Memphis history to have a marching band, and the original band director of the school was none other than Jimmy Lunceford, the man who went on to become a legendary big band star of the 1930’s, fronting a band largely composed of former Manassas students. Later, Emerson Able mentored many fine Memphis musicians at Manassas, including jazz stars Frank Strozier and Booker Little, as well as Al Green’s drummer Howard Grimes. Although Manassas has suffered from low enrollment in recent years, it appears that its band program is on the way back up, as evidenced by their appearance in this year’s Southern Heritage Classic Parade, 9/14/13
The Millennium Madness Drill Team & Drum Squad is one of Memphis’ premiere drill teams, and one of the few that still gives young men an opportunity to be drummers. Here they are in this year’s Southern Heritage Classic Parade in Orange Mound, 9/14/13