Jackson State Sonic Boom vs. Tennessee State Aristocrat of Bands at the #southernheritageclassic13

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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 in the Southern Heritage Classic Parade in Orange Mound

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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

Bethune-Cookman and Tennessee State at the John Merritt Classic in Nashville

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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.