The 5th Quarter: Howard University vs. North Carolina A&T
The Bison band might be small but still held it down for homecoming
Everyone loves a good band from a historically black college or university (HBCU).
Whether big or small, World Famed or not in the top 10, the bands are expected to bring their A-game, especially if the school’s football team leaves it to the band to give fans a reason to cheer.
Howard University’s homecoming football game represented that exact scenario. Some of the current students and alumni in attendance looked to the band for a show that the football team just couldn’t quite give them.
“We have the best band in the land,” said TV personality and Howard alumnus A.J. Calloway. “There’s no other band out there. Every other band wants to be us. We might lose the game, but we’re gonna win the band.”
The Showtime Marching Band kicked off halftime, followed by a spirited and crowd-hyping performance from the opposing team’s band, North Carolina A&T State University’s Blue and Gold Marching Machine. At the end of the game, Howard’s band lined up to take the field for a second time. Now, it was Howard’s turn to show fans why a small, yet mighty band can still keep up with the best of the best.
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“We have a band full of musicians, and a lot of people think a smaller size equals bad, but it’s the total opposite,” said Jonathan Neal, a student assistant with Howard’s band. “With our size, everybody has to be held accountable. We definitely don’t have a chip on our shoulder. We get that good balance, and that’s all that matters. We don’t have to overblow. As long as we get a good sound and we can maybe turn the volume up a little bit, we’re good.”
In keeping with the spirit of homecoming, Howard seemed to stick with song selections that kept the alumni in mind, opening up with Marvin Gaye’s 1971 hit What’s Going On, followed by a modern rendition of ‘Cause I Love You, a classic tune by Lenny Williams. This song, a lengthy one when performed live, ate up most of Howard’s time on the field and mellowed the mood in the stands. The band recovered by ending with an old-school dance break, with song selections ranging from Michael Jackson’s Remember the Time to Usher’s Yeah.
In comparison to North Carolina A&T’s band, which usually ranges between 210-220 members, Howard’s band is on the smaller end of the spectrum. The band may not be as large, but it didn’t stop Howard from turning the funk up to give the crowd a reason to cheer as the home team trailed 20-0 at halftime.
Still, North Carolina A&T showed no mercy.
The band, recently ranked No. 3 in the top 15 HBCU marching bands in America, commanded the attention of everyone in attendance.
“Each competition [the band] goes to, they come out on top every time,” said North Carolina A&T alumna Jennifer Hill. “It’s pretty awesome to be able to brag about that and to continue to be able to brag about it year after year, the work that they put into it.”
The band opened with Put On by rapper Young Jeezy featuring Kanye West, followed by Australian Sam Sparro’s We Could Fly. The Marching Machine stayed on pace with more modern catchy tunes, including D.R.A.M.’s popular club banger Broccoli, before concluding their performance with Chance The Rapper’s No Problem.
Though North Carolina A&T has climbed the rankings to be one of the best HBCU bands in the nation, assistant director of bands Thomas Warner hopes to see the band continue to climb to new heights.
“We’ve done the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We’ve done Mardi Gras parades. We’ve been in that top number of HBCU marching bands in the country, but we’d definitely like to be No. 1 in the country overall, whether it’s an HBCU or predominantly white institution,” Warner said. “We work hard every day just to get a good sound, make sure they look good on the field. They’re absolutely dedicated and loyal students, and we respect them for that. We’ll do as much as we can for them.”
After the halftime performance, the bands periodically went back and forth. After North Carolina A&T blew one tune, Howard followed. After North Carolina A&T drowned out Howard with Nas’ Hate Me Now, Howard answered with the same song. At times, the sounds of both bands clashed, which led to fans not knowing what either of them was playing.
The 34-7 battering Howard’s football team took on the field was finally over, but the bands stuck around for a brief fifth quarter. A seemingly more comfortable and confident Showtime Marching Band appeared, paying homage to Washington, D.C.’s, go-go music and even extending to the South, playing a rendition of LeVert’s Casanova made famous by New Orleans’ Rebirth Brass Band. The band exited after their last song, but played for an extra 30 minutes as fans gathered in the yard for the real show after the show.
Small but mighty, the Showtime Marching Band held its own, proudly representing for its home turf.
“As a whole, [the band] is kind of in a transition right now — downsizing some portions and adapting to changing times,” said Howard student Trey Legier. “It doesn’t mean the quality is bad, it’s just going through an adjustment period and once that transition is better, you’re going to see that outside perception change, as well. So it’s just kind of going through this low valley that will ultimately help us rise back up.”
“I still think we have an amazing band, even though it’s smaller in size,” added Howard student Troy Duffie. “They played excellent music, both old and new. There’s no band like Showtime.”