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HBCU Bands

N.C. A&T band relishes its moment in Celebration Bowl spotlight

A national audience got to see best of HBCU bands and football

ATLANTA — At historically black colleges and universities, the musical battle in the stands is often just as competitive as the one on the field.

Without the marching bands and their commitment to excellence, the pageantry of the black college football game would almost cease to exist.

“Music has a lot of power over emotions and vibes,” said James Richardson, head drum major for North Carolina A&T State University. “Just like other schools, HBCU [historically black colleges and university] bands are the pride of their respective universities.”

North Carolina A&T and Alcorn State faced-off in the Celebration Bowl on Saturday, a game that many deem the HBCU national championship. While the implications on the field are huge — the Aggies won their third straight Celebration Bowl title 64-44 — for many fans, their attention was focused on more than just the game.

Alcorn State’s Sounds of Dyn-O-Mite came on the field first at halftime and performed four songs for the crowd, who mostly stayed to watch the two performances.

Nearly four minutes of the Blue and Gold Marching Machine’s halftime performance was live on ABC. Normally, no more than 1-2 minutes per band are shown on broadcasts during 20-minute halftimes.

The Blue and Gold Marching Machine played “Bop” by DaBaby, “Love Come Down” by Evelyn “Champagne” King, “Anytime, Anyplace” by Janet Jackson, “Bring Me to Life,” by Evanescence and “You Got Me” by G-Easy.

“It’s an honor to be able to come down here with our football team,” said Kenny Ruff, director of bands at N.C. A&T. “This is special because it is a bowl game and you know we got a lot of fans here, so we want to make sure they are happy and so our main objective is to perform and entertain.”

Not only are the Aggies consistently of one of the most innovative and technically sound bands in the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference, they also entered this Celebration Bowl ranked No. 1 in the season’s final ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings.

For many of the Blue and Gold Marching Machine members, the pride in entertaining is what made this national moment special.

“This is another chance to prove to the world that we are in fact the best in the nation. Everyone will see, hear, and appreciate the hard work we put in for the entire season,” said Richardson. “Our band has overcome many obstacles to reach the greatness that we obtain. We practice inside a small warehouse and our practice field is little grass and a lot of dirt. I hope this recognition means that we’ll have some more financial support for our program. We do this every year, so people are going to recognize our name when they hear it again.”

Despite their obstacles, the world-renowned band has been able to set a precedent with a culture that has resonates with a community beyond the university.

The North Carolina A&T Blue and Gold Marching Machine’s halftime performance was viewed live on ABC, along with that of Alcorn State’s Sound of Dyn-O-Mite.

Kayla MaDonna/ESPN Images

They prepare for every show the same, but they change their routines to cater to their game audience. So, the songs they played at the Celebration Bowl were different, for instance, from the songs and the routine they performed at Duke at halftime in September.

The flavor they add is innovation and flexibility with their music, though they remain technically sound musically. On Saturday, that included the dancing and swaying that conclude their routine, saved for special games such as the Celebration Bowl.

“We like to step out of our comfort zones and cater to any audience we are in front of,” said Aaron Evans, a former Euphonium section member of the Blue and Gold Marching Machine. “To adjust at any moment to still give our 100% effort into our craft. Tradition but also being modern is our specialty.”

Ruff echoed the sentiments of Evans. The Blue and Gold Marching Machine tradition has made it one of the best HBCU bands in the nation.

They understand their moment and they know what it takes to deliver.

“We were the first HBCU band to perform in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, so the running joke is that our band and school have ownership of the dome,” said Richardson.

Blake Bailey

“We always like to perform and we always like to do our best when we perform,” said Ruff. “That’s our No. 1 priority is to entertain and so we try to tailor our shows to the crowd that we are going to have, so that they enjoy it and become a part of the things that we do.”

Needless to say, the Blue and Gold Marching Machine has brought a ton of enjoyment to their crowds. Every stadium, every trip, every performance has been set to a standard. A standard that has been waiting for another chance to shine.

“We work hard. We try to do shows that are kind of unique and different. We don’t want to be the standard and the norm,” said Ruff.

Donovan Dooley is a former Rhoden Fellow and a multimedia journalism major from Tuscaloosa, AL. He attends North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University.