The marching band at a historically black college or university is not just an institution of excellent musicianship. It is a cultural phenomenon. Nick Cannon’s adoption of the marching band at an HBCU became a smash hit in the film Drumline because it brought to life the synergy and the ambiance of the black band experience.
Since then more attention has gravitated towards HBCU’s marching bands. Other universities are now trying to emulate and incorporate the swagger of the HBCU marching band into their own performance numbers. Netflix captures the essence of HBCU band life with a couple of short documentaries.
Thousands of people flock annually to the South (Atlanta) to be part of the Battle of the Bands. Because of their distinctive style of entertaining in parades or at halftime of a college football game, HBCU marching bands are hot items right now. Led by Director of Bands, John E. Newson, the Howard Showtime Marching Band, has always sizzled.
In a six-part series on this subject, News4usonline Editor Dennis J. Freeman goes one-on-one with members of a variety of HBCU marching bands so that they can share their experience with readers. Up first is Howard University student Malcolm Henry, who talks about what it is like to be part of the Howard Showtime Marching Band.
News4usonline: What does it mean to you to be part of the Howard Showtime Marching Band?
Malcolm Henry: “To be apart of Showtime is to be a part of a never-ending family of generational musicians who love to do what you do in a variety of ways. Showtime takes everyone in with open arms, as long as one is willing to put in the necessary work required for being a part of this family.”
News4usonline: Were you recruited to be part of the band?
MH: “I originally knew I wanted to go to Howard. I met a fellow drummer via online application and he directed me through the audition process.”
News4usonline: What instrument do you play?
MH: “I played quints my freshman year, top bass drum my sophomore year, and snare both my junior and senior year. Now I’m currently the drum captain and teach each instrument to my section.”
News4usonline: What influence led you down the pathway to get involved in music?
MN: “My best friend in high school played in the Drumline for Duval High School in PG county MD Lanham. He influenced me to start playing my senior year of high school and I took off from there.”
News4usonline: Just attending Howard University, how has that experience changed you?
MH: “I always think of myself as a continuously growing caterpillar in a cocoon waiting to sprout into a butterfly. From freshman year to senior year, I’ve continuously pushed myself to become a better person all around. Howard has provided me with the resources necessary to reach my personal endeavors as far as having people around me with the same mindset and opportunities to expound upon my passions.”
News4usonline: What do people enjoy most about seeing the Howard Showtime Marching Band perform?
MH: “I think people look forward to the energy we bring to the crowd. It’s known campus-wide that being in the band requires a lot of time, dedication, and hard work and I believe every time we perform this characteristic is appreciated by our fans.”
News4usonline: How is the Howard Showtime Marching Band different than other HBCU marching bands?
MH: “Showtime differentiates itself from other bands due to how we carry ourselves as students at Howard University, first and foremost. Also, Mr. Newson and Mr. (Kelvin) Washington, both have a lot of time and connections in the industry and they have a variety of performances that bring different exposure to us than other bands get to experience. One example includes the opening performance for the National Museum of African American History. I’ve run into a variety of different celebrities during my tenure here at Howard like Will Smith, Stevie Wonder, Phylicia Rashad, and Angela Bassett. Also, this band believes in fighting for our rights. One example of this includes our student protest of 2015 #SilentShowtime.”
News4usonline: How demanding is it to be part of the band when it comes to juggling classes, work?
MH: “Being in the band is a lifetime commitment. As a current graduating senior taking 22 credits, being president of Alpha Kappa Psi, the Professional Business Fraternity, and the drum captain for the percussion section for Showtime, being a part of Showtime is stressful and time-demanding, but a willing sacrifice that I would make time and time again if I had the chance.”
News4usonline: What was it like for you the first time you stepped out to perform as a member of the Howard Showtime Marching Band?
MH: “My first performance was at RFK stadium. I was marching quints and my harness was having technical issues. I felt like a celebrity starting off the show because the quints had our own prime spot within the show during the entire time. I was nervous as well due to the unreliability of my drum being intact. I made it through the performance and as soon as we finished and came off the field my drum literally fell apart. I honestly thank God every day for that moment because it miraculously did not fall off during the show. From that point on I knew Showtime was going to be both challenging but rewarding.”
News4usonline: What was the audition process like for you?
MH: “The audition process wasn’t too stressful. I auditioned with Chris Steele and he was pretty chill. I still have the video of my audition to this day and it was terrible compared to how I play now.”
News4usonline: How does the Howard Showtime Marching Band stack up against the other HBCU marching bands?
MH: “Honestly, sound wise, Showtime differentiates itself due to our technique and how we approach our playing. Most of the time our sound is crisp and clean across the field. As far as the drum-line, however, we’ve been gradually improving our overall skillsets and playing abilities. We currently can’t compete with most drumlines in the MEAC (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference), but in the next two years the players that I’ve cultivated this year will be able to stack up against the best drumlines in the MEAC.”
Dennis is the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, MLB, racial and social justice, civil rights, and HBCUs. Dennis earned a journalism degree from “The Mecca” aka Howard University. “I write on what I am passionate about.”