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Grambling State, Southern prepare to face off at Bayou Classic’s Battle of the Bands

Pride at stake for World Famed Tiger Marching Band, Human Jukebox

During Bayou Classic weekend in New Orleans, the Battle of the Bands between Grambling State University’s World Famed Tiger Marching Band and Southern University’s Human Jukebox is as big of a draw as the football game itself.

“It has evolved so much in exposure for both of the universities,” said Nikole Roebuck, Grambling State’s director of bands. “I know my band students, and we look forward to Bayou Classic weekend because it is our largest recruitment tool for us. I mean, the band directors recruit year-round, but that weekend, in particular, you have so many media outlets that are showcasing both universities.”

Saturday will mark the 49th annual Bayou Classic, with the series tied 24-24. Since its inception in 1974, the event has gained attention by celebrating tradition, sportsmanship, academic achievement and friendly competition between the Louisiana historically Black colleges and universities. The weekend brings more than 200,000 people to New Orleans each year.

“The rivalry between Grambling and Southern University is so significant because you have two HBCUs coming together. We use the weekend of Thanksgiving to showcase what we do year-round and to have both schools together,” Roebuck said. “I mean, you couldn’t ask for a better event to showcase what it means to be an HBCU.”

The marching bands first will perform Friday night at Caesars Superdome in front of an estimated 25,000 people. The remainder of the competition will be held Saturday during the football game’s halftime show, where each band will receive 7½ minutes to perform, and the postgame “Fifth Quarter,” in which the bands will perform primarily for bragging rights.

Band members spend hours practicing during the fall season in order to stage a thrilling show. During their performances, both bands work to attract all segments of the audience by performing a mix of older hits, such as Cameo’s fan-favorite from 1984, “Talkin’ Out the Side of Your Neck,” and newer music.

“We’re always going to start with the songs that are on the top of the charts,” said Roebuck. “So that’s why we might end up playing the same No. 1 hit, because it’s high. Both bands want to play it, and it’s all about who played the best, who did it the best.”

Grambling State’s World Famed Tiger Marching Band, which Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones established in 1926, currently consists of 250 members including the Grambling State World Famed Drum Line and the Orchesis Dance Company.

Grambling State drum major De’Rondre Hatfield is eagerly anticipating his first Bayou Classic performance.

“It was a dream that is about to come true. I’m very nervous, but I’m ready to show up and show out,” said Hatfield. “Also, being able to share the field and spotlight with my brother Verbon [Muhammad] from Southern University means so much to me because we literally dreamed about this.”

Muhammad is the snare drum section leader for Southern’s Human Jukebox marching band, which consists of 215 members including the esteemed Funk Factory drum line and the Fabulous Dancing Dolls dance team. He first performed in the Battle of the Bands in 2019. 

“My favorite performance memory from Bayou Classic comes from 2019 … just watching the clock during the fourth quarter go down to 00:00 and knowing that I’ve accomplished a big dream of mine will always be one of my best memories,” he said.

Southern’s track record of performances proves its band, established by T. Leroy Davis in 1947, is “often imitated but never duplicated,” according to Kedric Taylor, Southern’s director of bands. 

The band performed under four different names before being christened the Human Jukebox due to its ability to play Top 40s music.

“It’s the fact that we can play anything, and you can recognize instantly what we’re playing,” said Taylor. “The history of the band is deeply rooted in jazz. I think a lot of people don’t know why the band plays so loud – it’s because it is jazz-oriented. We have a lot of brass players.”

He said watching the Human Jukebox perform is “like poetry in motion.”  

“This band has a long history of being unique and creative,” Taylor said. “And we’ve been successful over the years because we’ve had the best guys working with us, and that’s what makes up the Southern University Human Jukebox.” 

The Battle of the Bands holds a special place in the hearts of the bands and alumni.

For former Southern trumpet player Chaselynn Grant, it’s an opportunity to experience the performances from the crowd’s perspective. 

“I am looking forward to actually being in the audience, cheering on the band that I dedicated so much time to,” Grant said. “I never got to experience just watching and hearing them play at Bayou Classic. I’ve always had my friends on the sidelines cheering me on. This time I get to give that experience to the band directors and my band family.”

49th annual Bayou Classic

Battle of the Bands

When: 8 p.m. Friday EST
Where: Caesars Superdome, New Orleans

Football game

When: 2 p.m. Saturday EST
Where: Caesars Superdome, New Orleans
Television: NBC
Radio: ESPNU Radio/SiriusXM
Website: www.mybayouclassic.com

Alexis Black is a senior multimedia journalism student from Prince George’s County, Maryland. She is a contributor for The A&T Register, a student reporter for Aggie News and a student-athlete with N.C. A&T’s cheerleading program.