The tournament of Roses recently announced the involvement of the Alabama State University and the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University marching bands for the 2019 Rose Parade.
“When I was able to reach out to the Historically Black Colleges, it was very exciting, the opportunity to have them come and perform this year, for my year,” said Tournament of Roses President Gerald Freeny.
Freeny noted how he wanted diverse groups of bands to be part of the Rose Parade. He also mentioned how the HBCU marching bands would bring excitement to the parade. Seeing the marching bands can inspire young viewers, showcasing how music can be a primary option for their future.
“For them to see the drumline from Florida A&M and Alabama State, I think it’s gonna give them the energy to say ‘hey, we can play drums.’” Freeny said. “Just give kids more of a vision or give them more of an opportunity of something to think about majoring in college.”
The Florida A&M Marching 100 band director Dr. Shelby Chipman is the fourth director of the band’s history. He explained that the Marching 100 had distinct sound, thanks to long-time music arranger and music chair Lindsey Sarjeant.
“He’s been the band’s arranger since the 70’s and of course he studied with individuals not only from Florida A&M, but Florida State University as well as former arrangers in the 60’s who had been at University of Michigan,” Chipman said. “There’s a certain sound that the FAMU Band projects because of his voicing and his arranging techniques.”
Alabama State band director Dr. James Oliver has been with the university’s music program since 2000. For Oliver, creating a repertoire for the five-mile walk requires an understanding of popular songs of the past and present.
“What revs me up is I want [the crowd] up on their feet,” Oliver said. “I need to figure out what I can put out there on the field to get them [on] their feet, gonna make them scream and clap and yell, whatever it takes.”
Freeny, Oliver and Chipman are members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., Freeny and Oliver met six years ago and remained close. Chipman and Oliver are also good friends.
“It’s exciting for us and our fraternity we all dearly love,” Chipman said. “We’re excited about representing that as an organization, as it relates to our achievement.”
What makes the Alabama State Marching Hornets unique is their rapid marching and the sound of the band.
“Our style is 360 steps per minute,” Oliver said. “It is our style of how we do it, how we execute it and there’s a technique for it.”
The drumlines of both schools have to give a memorable, soulful performance.
“The drummers and the percussion guys never stop. When the song is going, we’re playing and when the song is over, we’re playing a cadence to keep them marching,” Oliver said. “They are the heartbeat, they’re gonna keep that rhythm, they’re gonna keep up that tempo.”
Oliver usually consults the Top 40 charts and Chipman looks at the Billboard charts. Oliver performs songs spanning from the 70’s up to today’s popular songs. Chipman utilizes classical and jazz songs to go along with R&B and pop music.
Florida A&M will be marching down Colorado Boulevard in new uniforms thanks to a $250,000 donation from Bernard Kinsey. In their 72-year history, the entire FAMU marching band has never traveled to California, according to Kinsey.
“That is a band that they [Rose Parade attendees] just haven’t seen before,” Kinsey said. “Florida A&M band was the first band that pioneered memorizing its own music.”
Although the Parade is months away, Chipman has plans on how to overcome the challenges of the route.
“We have that corner, that big corner turn there on Colorado boulevard that all the schools to make,” Chipman said. “You want to do it with the upmost precision.”
Both marching bands had their share of notoriety and special appearances. The Hornets earned their own reality show called “Bama State Style” and was named the 2015 HBCU Best band in America.
Florida A&M performed alongside Kanye West and Jamie Foxx during the 2006 Grammys and performed with Prince during the Super Bowl XLI halftime show. Chipman was an assistant director at the time.
“We were illuminated in those lighting units that [Prince] foresaw as something that would be spectacular and it rained as we were playing “Purple Rain”,” he said. “It was just overwhelming.”
Through the years, the marching bands selected for the Rose Parade have come from all over the United States and the world. Having the Alabama State Marching Hornets and the Florida A&M Marching 100 will add another layer to the variety of music in the parade.
“That’s one of our goals, we want to be diverse,” Freeny said. “We have 50 million viewers on TV worldwide, so we want to have something that will reflect that particular country, culture or something to them.”
Along with helping select the bands to perform, Freeny has to be the executive coordinator of 31 committees and is involved in decisions that affect the association. Being president of the tournament, Freeny gets the opportunity to travel and visit all the marching bands that will perform in the parade.
The theme of the parade is “Melody of Life,” Freeny noted how his daughter helped him create the theme. She came up with the phrase back when he was a vice president in the executive committee.
“We tweaked it over the years, but she came up with the main words and we just kept coming back to it,” he said. “We would write down words, write down phrases, anything; we just kept coming back.”