The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings

N.C. A&T is our new No. 1 Division I band; Benedict retains Division II top spot

There are new bands in the rankings for both divisions

It’s time for this season’s second Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings, and we have a new top school in Division I: the North Carolina A&T Blue and Gold Marching Machine.

Florida A&M Marching 100 dropped one spot from the initial rankings to No. 2 and Jackson State Sonic Boom of the South jumped two spots to No. 3.

N.C. A&T Blue and Gold Marching Machine, which was No. 7 in the initial ranking, moved to No. 1 on the strength of top ratings for percussion and a top-5 placing in auxiliaries, drum majors, musicality, and pictures, drill and design. N.C. A&T isn’t a stranger to the top spot; the Blue and Gold Marching Machine finished the 2019 rankings as the top band in Division I.

“The creative aspect of marching entertainment truly sets the Blue and Gold Marching Machine within its own category of bands. We’ve always viewed the space between the end zones as our most important drawing board to allow ideas to reside and flourish,” said Kenneth Ruff, director of bands at N.C. A&T. “From themed shows, unorthodox musical selections, additional props, colors or uniforms, this area is sacred in our eyes and we do our best to entertain those in person and online at the highest level.

“Being recognized as a top HBCU band is an award given to the hardworking musicians and staff within our program. Each day, we all make individual sacrifices to push through various tasks and become better. Accountability and loyalty: That’s what fuels us to be our best.”

Benedict College holds onto its top ranking in Division II because it held a top spot for musicality and top-5 positions in drum majors, pictures, drill and design, and percussion.

“It is indeed an honor to once again be voted the No. 1 HBCU Division II marching band in the country. We accept and wear this title as a badge of honor,” said Wade Johnson, director of bands at Benedict College. “Each day, we strive to be better and consistent as we continue [to] build our musical legacy at Benedict College. The Benedict College Marching Tiger Band of Distinction is an organism that thrives on discipline and order. God has ordered our steps!”

The rankings, conducted by two six-person panels of current and retired band directors and historically Black college and university choreographers, evaluate bands on musicality, pictures, drill and design, percussion, auxiliary corps and drum majors. Judges critique the bands’ routines, then provide feedback to the programs.

“It is very important that people understand that our Undefeated rankings are based on individual field shows, which evaluate the areas of musicality, pictures, drill and design, percussion, auxiliaries and drum majors,” said Don P. Roberts, executive consultant for The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings. “It’s possible that you can have one great performance and be No. 1 in each category, and possibly be completely out of the top 10 the next ranking because that particular show wasn’t as spectacular.

“Our HBCU rankings are meaningful to our bands and directors because our adjudicators are primarily present and along with a few retired SWAC, MEAC, CIAA, Division I and Division II band directors and choreographers who all give positive feedback as to how each program can improve. There is no greater accomplishment than to gain the respect from your musical peers through outstanding performances.

“I reiterate that our rankings are not a competition, but more so an effort to highlight the outstanding work of our HBCU bands by giving them a platform that showcases their talents worldwide through The Undefeated and ESPN platforms.”

For the first time in rankings history, there was a three-way tie between Florida A&M, Norfolk State and Bethune-Cookman in the Division I rankings for musicality. North Carolina Central and Arkansas-Pine Bluff jumped into the Division I rankings for the first time this season at No. 8 and No. 9, respectively.

“It is the love that we have for our university and the clear understanding that we do have standards and we care about students graduating,” said John Graham, director of bands at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. “We do demand a lot from them musically and physically and that they demonstrate good character.”

In the Division II rankings, multiple programs are on the rise, including Virginia State Trojan Explosion, Kentucky State Mighty Marching Thorobred Express and Savannah State Coastal Empire Sound Explosion, which are all making their first appearance in the rankings this season. Virginia State came in at No. 3, followed by Kentucky State at No. 4 and Savannah State took the final spot at No. 10.

“We are extremely honored to be considered amongst the best in the HBCU band world,” said Alvin Level, director of bands at Kentucky State University. “My students work extremely hard daily to produce quality shows. It’s great to be recognized and honored by my peers.”

Top 10 HBCU Division I Bands

Overall Rank Auxiliary Drum Major Musicality Percussion Pictures, Drill and Design
1. +6 North Carolina A&T 3 3 2 1 2
2. -1 Florida A&M 9 4 1 3 4
3. +2 Jackson State 1 1 3 7 6
4. -1 Norfolk State 6 11 1 2 1
5. -3 Bethune-Cookman 14 2 1 6 3
6. -2 Southern 8 5 8 15 1
7. +2 Tennessee State 16 8 4 11 1
8. North Carolina Central 7 16 9 9 5
9. Arkansas-Pine Bluff 17 6 12 10 7
10. -2 Prairie View A&M 4 9 7 13 16


  1. Jackson State
  2. Hampton
  3. North Carolina A&T
  4. Prairie View
  5. Grambling State

Drum Major

  1. Jackson State
  2. Bethune-Cookman
  3. North Carolina A&T
  4. Florida A&M
  5. Southern


  1. Florida A&M (tied for 1st)
  2. Norfolk State (tied for 1st)
  3. Bethune-Cookman (tied for 1st)
  4. North Carolina A&T
  5. Tennessee State


  1. North Carolina A&T
  2. Norfolk State
  3. Florida A&M
  4. Delaware State
  5. Hampton

Pictures, Drill and Design

  1. Norfolk State
  2. Southern
  3. Tennessee State
  4. North Carolina A&T
  5. Bethune-Cookman
North Carolina A&T
Florida A&M
Jackson State

Top 10 HBCU Division II Bands

Overall Rank Auxiliary Drum Major Musicality Percussion Pictures, Drill and Design
1. Benedict College 11 2 1 2 5
2. +4 Miles College 5 5 4 4 2
3. Virginia State 12 4 8 1 10
4. Kentucky State 1 1 9 20 1
5. +2 Winston-Salem 6 9 2 9 8
6. -4 Florida Memorial 7 12 6 15 6
7. Tuskegee 3 3 7 18 19
8. Elizabeth City State 4 7 15 3 4
9. -6 Central State 13 21 5 10 3
10. Savannah State 22 13 3 7 11


  1. Kentucky State
  2. Fort Valley State
  3. Tuskegee
  4. Elizabeth City State
  5. Miles College

Drum Major

  1. Kentucky State
  2. Benedict College
  3. Tuskegee
  4. Virginia State
  5. Miles College


  1. Benedict College
  2. Winston Salem State
  3. Savannah State
  4. Miles College
  5. Central State


  1. Virginia State
  2. Benedict College
  3. Elizabeth City State
  4. Miles College
  5. Edward Water

Pictures, Drill and Design

  1. Kentucky State
  2. Miles College
  3. Central State
  4. Elizabeth City State
  5. Benedict
Virginia State

Band judging criteria

Auxiliaries: Dance/flag routine, baton/flag carriage, utilization of space, marching/strut technique, uniform, style and more.

Drum major: Conducting, baton carriage, utilization of space, marching technique, accuracy and definition, style and discipline.

Musicality: Tone, intonation, balance, technique, consistency of style, interpretation and musical effect.

Percussion: Rudimental excellence, general appearance, showmanship, technique/stick control, drill execution, style consistency and discipline.

Pictures, drill and design: Intervals and spacing, creativity, marching style, precision in timing, definition of patterns, showmanship, instrument carriage and showmanship.

Mia Berry is the senior HBCU writer for Andscape and covers everything from sports to student-led protests. She is a Detroit native (What up Doe!), long-suffering Detroit sports fan and Notre Dame alumna who randomly shouts, "Go Irish."