ATLANTA, Ga.—The Black college football weekend in Atlanta (Sept. 26), featured two of the nation’s illustrious marching bands—Florida A&M University and Tennessee State University.

While the 21st annual Atlanta Football Classic was a star-studded event featuring a pre-game show with R&B crooner Trey Songz and film stars Chris Rock and Nia Long, the football contest managed to stay competitive.


But, in keeping with the great tradition of HBCU institutions, it was the bands that took center stage.

Ironically, both FAMU’s Rattlers and TSU’s Tigers, staged Michael Jackson tributes. While it’s been nearly three months since the Pop King’s shocking death, the tributes still felt timely and evoked emotions from the enormous Georgia Dome patronage who paid noticeable attention to the musical outfits and their presentations.

Interestingly, while TSU’s group displayed a small group of dancing girls, FAMU’s band did not. In recent years, several Black college and high school bands have been criticized for allowing provocative dance moves to be performed by all-female dance units.

Dr. Julian White, the FAMU music department chair and band director, said it’s a long-held tradition that the Rattlers forgo the dancing girls aspect at their shows.

“It’s intentional. No dancing girls. We don’t knock the ones (bands) that do, but we don’t use them because they tend to distract from the band. Audiences focus on them, rather than the band. We let our (co-ed) band dance at a level of perfection—as one.

“We don’t really need the dancing girls. That’s our history. In 1946, we had majorettes; but not since then. Now, it’s just the band doing the dancing,” said White, an alumnus who started as a student in 1959 and continues as an administrator.

The “Marching 100” hails 420 musicians, including 40 tubas and 55 percussionists.

White likens the Black college football game experience to a family reunion. “It’s part fashion show, social gathering, tailgating and an overall festive social experience,” he said. “We bring a different type of culture to our games.” FAMU was one of the first HBCU bands to field 100 members, in accordance with its age-old motto, White explained.

Augusta-Richmond County commissioners Alvin Mason, Corey Johnson and Calvin “Coach” Holland, attended the game and were pleased with the bands and a competitive game, although a 31-12 FAMU victory failed to depict TSU’S hard-fought effort.

Holland was a gridiron and baseball star at Allen University in Columbia, S.C. before a brief pro career with the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons. He was elected to Allen U’s Sports Hall of Fame last year.

The Atlanta Football Classic is typically held the final Saturday in September and has increasingly become a stellar event for the city of Atlanta. Telain Ware, a publicist for the game which was sponsored by Bank of America and 100 Black Men of Atlanta, said this year’s contest attracted just over 51,000 patrons compared with 41,000 a year ago. “Anytime you can witness such a significant increase, you have to be happy with that,” Ware said.

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