HBCU marching bands are the life of the party

The winner of the battle of the bands is the real game winner

HBCU marching bands are the life of the party
Morris Brown College Wolverine Marching Band drum majors, 1985

Photograph courtesy of Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library

Football games serve a different purpose at HBCUs: They’re the bookends for the halftime show. During halftime, no one is going to the concession stands or taking a restroom break. If you did, you’d be missing out on the real reason football games traditionally exist at HBCUs in the first place: the battle of the bands. The battle is an exuberant show at every HBCU football game halftime, where marching bands with names like Southern University’s “The Human Jukebox,” FAMU’s “Marching 100,” and Jackson State’s “Sonic Boom of the South” volley tunes back and forth across the football field and take to the ground level to execute complex formations alongside the color guard. Sometimes the bands even spell out the score at halftime. A couple of things to know: First, students often write the musical arrangements, so the band’s repertoire is constantly changing and vacillating between timeless classics and club bangers. “If you hear a song on the radio and it’s hot, you can expect the band to be playing it within three weeks,” explained Sir Foster, a Fort Valley State graduate and band alum (not to mention the former organist for the Atlanta Hawks and former DJ for the Georgia Bulldogs), talking on the HBCU band episode of the Bottom of the Map Southern hip-hop podcast. And, second, the winner of the battle of the bands is the real game winner—no matter the final score.

The top five marching band classics that will bring the crowd to its feet—every time.

  1. “Talkin’ Out the Side of Your Neck”
  2. “In the Stone”
    Earth, Wind & Fire
  3. “Working Day and Night”
    Michael Jackson
  4. “Before I Let Go”
    Maze ft. Frankie Beverly
  5. “Morris Brown”

This article appears in our October 2023 issue.