The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings

Norfolk State, Kentucky State hold top spots in final HBCU band rankings

There was a shift in the polls for our Division I and Division II rankings to end the 2021 college football season

It’s time for this season’s final Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings, and we have a new top school in both Division I and Division II: Norfolk State Spartan Legion and Kentucky State Thorobred Express.

The Florida A&M Marching 100 jumped back into the Division I rankings, claiming the No. 2 spot, and the Southern Human Jukebox remained No. 3.

Norfolk State Spartan Legion, which was No. 5 in last month’s rankings, moved to No. 1 on the strength of top ratings for pictures, drill and design; musicality; percussion; and a top-10 placing in drum major and auxiliaries.

“Thank you, ESPN and the Undefeated adjudicators for this terrific honor and acknowledgment. In addition, a big thank you to the NSU administration, staff, alumni, family and friends for their unwavering support,” said professor William Beathea, director of bands at Norfolk State.

“Here at NSU, we challenge the students in musicianship, physical training and drill execution. We are very proud of their development thus far and willingness to continue to improve. Moreover, the standard of performance by our peers in the HBCU band world is very high, and it helps push us to thrive for performance excellence.”

The Kentucky State Thorobred Express, which was unranked initially, No. 4 in the second rankings and No. 3 in last month’s poll, moved to No. 1 in Division II because it earned top-three finishes in auxiliaries; pictures, drill and design; and drum major.

The former top band in Division II, Florida Memorial Roar, dropped five spots to No. 6, Benedict College Marching Tiger Band of Distinction remained No. 2, and the Miles College Purple Marching Machine jumped two spots to No. 3.

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; auxiliaries; and drum majors. Judges critique the bands’ routines, then provide feedback to the programs.

“I truly believe our rankings have contributed to making our HBCU bands better than ever. Every form of adjudication has some level of subjectivity, which always leaves room for discussion regarding which band is better,” said Don P. Roberts, executive consultant for The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings. “What makes our band ranking so credible and well respected is that our template is designed to improve the total band performance. I guarantee that bands are paying more attention to detail in regards to drum majors, auxiliaries, percussion and the highest-scored areas of musicality, and pictures, drill and design than ever before. We know our process isn’t perfect, but any band that works on these essential elements will improve their overall program.”

“People shouldn’t think anything less than being No. 1 is a failure. A better gauge of a band’s success is how often you make our top 10 overall [and also in the subcategories]. Making the top 10 once is a good accomplishment. Making it twice is a great accomplishment. Making it three times is an exceptional accomplishment. Making it four times in one season means you have an extraordinary band program.

“Nevertheless, I always tell the directors that the rankings will never change the love and support the bands have in their own communities,” said Roberts. “Every HBCU band is No. 1 each and every day on their campus and to their home fan base.“

This concludes the fourth year of ranking bands from all NCAA Division I and Division II schools, which include the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Southwestern Athletic Conference, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Independent schools such as Tennessee State, Hampton and North Carolina A&T in Division I, and Talladega College, Allen University, Langston University, Florida Memorial and Edward Waters in Division II, are also rated.

Julian E. White, director of bands emeritus at Florida A&M University, has been an adjudicator since the first year of the rankings in 2017.

“The HBCU marching band rankings are very helpful to directors in all conferences. Experienced directors from all across America make suggestions for improvement to their colleagues. This has had a very positive effect on the HBCU marching bands,” said White. “There has been tremendous growth in bands since the implementation of this process several years ago. The difference between the ESPN and Undefeated rankings and others is the fact that our evaluations are made by present and retired band directors.”

Top 10 HBCU Division I Bands

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


  1. Hampton University (Independent)
  2. Southern University
  3. Texas Southern University
  4. Alabama A&M University
  5. Alcorn State University

Drum Major

  1. Bethune-Cookman University
  2. Florida A&M University
  3. Southern University
  4. Norfolk State University
  5. Jackson State University


  1. Norfolk State University
  2. Bethune-Cookman University
  3. Florida A&M University
  4. Prairie View A&M University
  5. Alabama A&M University


  1. Florida A&M University (tied for 1st)
  2. Norfolk State University (tied for 1st)
  3. Southern University
  4. Jackson State University
  5. Alabama A&M University

Pictures, Drill and Design

  1. North Carolina A&T State University (Independent)
  2. Southern University
  3. Florida A&M University
  4. Bethune-Cookman University
  5. Norfolk State University
Norfolk State
Florida A&M

Top 10 HBCU Division II Bands

Overall Rank Auxiliary Drum Major Musicality Percussion Pictures, Drill and Design
1. +2Kentucky State 3 3 14 7 1
2. Benedict 5 6 1 2 2
3. +2Miles 4 2 12 13 4
4. Edward Waters 22 1 16 1 11
5. +3Tuskegee 1 4 18 21 18
6. -5Florida Memorial 14 22 5 3 5
7. Elizabeth City 9 7 19 4 15
8. Langston 7 16 8 12 3
9. -3Allen 18 20 7 5 10
10. -6Winston-Salem 12 5 4 17 7


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

Drum Major

  1. Edward Waters College (Independent)
  2. Miles College
  3. Kentucky State University
  4. Tuskegee University
  5. Winston-Salem State University


  1. Benedict College
  2. Fort Valley State University
  3. Virginia State University
  4. Winston-Salem State University
  5. Florida Memorial


  1. Edward Waters College (Independent)
  2. Benedict College
  3. Florida Memorial
  4. Elizabeth City State University
  5. Allen University (Independent)

Pictures, Drill and Design

  1. Kentucky State University
  2. Benedict College
  3. Langston University
  4. Miles College
  5. Florida Memorial
Kentucky 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."