There are marching bands, and there are marching bands, and the bands you witness during the annual Bayou Classic’s Battle of the Bands are like few you’ve ever seen.
Horns blare and sway, cymbals crash and musicians somehow manage to create perfect music while dancing in precision formation. The Battle of the Bands is the much anticipated halftime show at the Bayou Classic football game, a nationally televised face-off between Southern University and Grambling State University and one of college sports’ greatest rivalries.
The event has such historic and cultural significance that the winner’s trophy, traditionally kept at the victor’s campus, is now part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Also in the museum collection is the band uniform, baton and trumpet of the late Isaac Greggs, 40-year band director of the Southern University Marching Band known for his intense discipline and energetic showmanship.
Held the weekend after Thanksgiving in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Bayou Classic attracts an estimated 200,000 visitors to New Orleans, with between 50,000 and 60,000 attending the game and marching band festivities. The annual event, held now for 45 years, brings an economic development impact of about $50 million to the city of New Orleans. It’s been held at the Superdome since 1980.
The Bayou Classic is televised and enjoyed around the country in large part because of the halftime show. The Battle of the Bands pits Southern University’s “Human Jukebox” against the Grambling State Tiger Marching Band for a high energy display of musical and physical artistry. Each band, comprised of about 250 pieces, practices for months leading up to the event to deliver the kind of show-stopping performance crowds crave. Both bands have seen significant national exposure over the last several decades. The Tiger Marching Band, for example, performed at the inaugural parades of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and was featured in the movie, Drumline. The Human Jukebox played at the inaugural parade for President Bill Clinton and has performed at many other high profile national and international events.
The Bayou Classic is not just a rivalry between two of the country’s most recognized Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It also illuminates the lasting heritage and culture of the two institutions as well as HBCUs in general, which were founded to bring higher education equity to minority communities across the United States.
Southern, which was founded in 1880, includes a main campus in Baton Rouge, as well as campuses in New Orleans and Shreveport. The Southern University System is the only historically black university system in the U.S. and also includes the Southern Law Center and the Southern University Agriculture Land Grant Campus. Grambling State University was first founded in 1901 in Grambling, a community outside Ruston, Louisiana, as an industrial and agricultural institution for African Americans. Both institutions are four-year colleges that provide a wide variety of areas of study, including pre-med, pre-law, nursing, engineering, business, education, humanities and the arts.
While known as the Battle of the Bands, there’s no actual winner announced after the bands play during the halftime show. Instead, it’s about the pure enjoyment of the music, showmanship and tradition.
The 46th Annual Bayou Classic will be played Saturday, November 30.
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