One Yard

Pictured: Florida A&M University Marching Band

Top 10 HBCU Marching Bands

Throughout pop culture, the college marching band has carried the unfortunate tag as being a refuge for social outcasts, misfits, and nerds. It’s a lazy, antiquated stereotype for sure. But it especially looks foolish when applied to HBCUs where school bands take on a revered, mythical status. Which is why coming up with a current list of the top 10 historically Black college marching bands was such an arduous task. With HBCU football being postponed this fall due to the pandemic and some schools utilizing virtual classes, we won’t really get to see/hear the newest rollout of bands until next year.

So how did we do it? One Yard reviewed 2019 marching band showings spanning memorable homecoming performances and HBCU football Classics as well as this year’s January 25thHonda Battle of the Bands showcase held at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. These are the best of the best. Everything from musicianship, drill formation, drum majors, and percussion to announcing, song arrangement, and auxiliary (which includes dance team choreography, flag routines, uniforms, marching routines and swag) was judged.

But we’re not stopping there. On Saturday, October 24 (4pm ET), One Yard will present our own Battle of the Beats exhibition featuring some of the dopest HBCU bands and drumlines in the country, hosted by platinum R&B standout Sammie. Now on with the show!

HBCU school bands take on a revered, mythical status. These are the best of the best.

Pictured: Howard University Marching Band

10. Arkansas at Pine Bluff

Name: The Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South
Members: Nearly 300
Location: Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Best Halftime Show: Arkansas at Pine Bluff Halftime Show 2019

Arkansas at Pine Bluff Halftime Show 2019

There should be a law that every marching band in the country must include Juvenile’s 1998 classic “Back That Azz Up” in their musical repertoire. That is if they are capable of translating the Mannie Fresh produced banger’s soaring, sweat inducing (and naughty) glory like Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South are the type of band that goes heavy on the groove and never let up. You will also notice that they are pretty ambitious with the complex formations. It’s really the best of both worlds.

9. Grambling State University

Name: World Famed Tiger Marching Band
Members: 200 plus
Location: Grambling, Louisiana
Best Halftime Show: Bayou Classic 2019

Bayou Classic 2019

For decades the World Famed Tiger Marching Band had the luxury of playing in support of the most heralded HBCU college football program led by the late great coach Eddie Robinson. But that also meant that the Grambling State crew has had to live up to the team’s immense national profile. Mission accomplished. The Tiger Marching Band comes at you at every level from instrumental skill to showmanship. Respect.

8. Southern University

Name: Human Jukebox
Members: 215
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Best Performance: Southern University 2019 Halftime Homecoming Show

Southern University 2019 Halftime Homecoming Show

Southern University is a Top 40 hit machine. They’ve carried that reputation ever since they took on the moniker the “Human Jukebox” YEARS ago. Here’s just a list of some of the songs they tore through during their epic 2019 homecoming show: “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love” (The Emotions); “The Rain” (Oran “Juice” Jones); “The Way You Make Me Feel” (Michael Jackson); “Swag Surfin’” (F.L.Y.); “It’s Not Unusual” (Tom Jones). Now that’s range.

7. Florida A&M University

Name: The Marching 100
Members: 420
Location: Tallassee, Florida
Best Performance: 2020 Honda Battle of the Bands

2020 Honda Battle of the Bands

Following the tragic 2011 hazing scandal which almost left Florida A&M’s Marching 100 program in ruins, one of the most celebrated collegiate bands in history has steadily found its way back. Last January, the Rattlers were one of the final eight nominated by voters to participate in the 2020 Battle of the Bands. And that same month, the 100 beat out other HBCUs in Young Thug’s “Hot” Battle of the Bands Challenge. Not bad.

6. Tennessee State

Name: The Aristocrat of Bands
Members: 250
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Best Performance: 2020 Honda Battle of the Bands

2020 Honda Battle of the Bands

When you are billed as “the Aristocrat of Bands” that’s quite a majestic title to live up to. Thankfully the Tennessee State University outfit is as hard working as it is regal. They play hard and move hard. Just watch their 10 dancers leave it all out on the field. The synergy between the band and the “Sophisticated Ladies” is breathless.

5. Jackson State

Name: Sonic Boom of the South
Members: 300
Location: Jackson, Mississippi
Best Performance: Boombox Classic 2019

Boombox Classic 2019

When it comes to throwing good-natured shade at an opposing band, Jackson State has mastered the art. “Recently Southern attempted to imitate the Sonic Boom by featuring a dance crew during Southern’s Homecoming Halftime,” said their cheeky announcer during the school’s 2019 November 16th game against their longtime conference rival at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. “The Boom will now reenact how bad it really was.” Ha! But Jackson State’s criminally underrated marching band serves more than just jokes as you can see. It also helps when you have one of the best drum majors around.

4. Prairie View A&M University

Name: Marching Storm
Members: 400
Location: Prairie View, Texas
Best Performance: 2020 Honda Battle of the Bands

2020 Honda Battle of the Bands

ESPN’s The Undefeated ranked the Marching Storm at no. 2 in their top 10 HBCU rankings late last year awarding high marks for their dazzling auxiliary. But Prairie View’s trademark is their powerful percussive section. It’s well known within the HBCU circuit that the Lone Star state marching band innovated the high-stepping drumline, which has since become its own show.

3. Norfolk State University

Name: Spartan Legion
Members: 225
Location: Norfolk, Virginia
Best Performance: Norfolk State Halftime Show vs. Virginia State

Norfolk State Halftime Show vs. Virginia State

Norfolk State, voted the 2019 HBCU Sports Band of the Year, kicks off our mighty top 3. This is a crew that thrives on versatility tackling Frankie Beverly & Maze, Childish Gambino and Megan Thee Stallion all with the same showmanship and respect for the material.

2. North Carolina A&T State University

Name: The Blue and Gold Marching Machine
Members: 220
Location: Greensboro, North Carolina
Best Performance: 2019 Sounds of Caribbean

2019 Sounds of Caribbean

It should be noted that North Carolina A&T could have just as well landed at the top spot. In fact, many HBCU fans and critics rank the Blue and Gold Marching Machine as the best on field groups in the country. The official band of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers has some of the best arrangements around and is frighteningly consistent in terms of all-around presentation. The only thing that kept them from leading the way is no. 1’s tenacity and grit to elevate under adversity.

1. Bethune-Cookman University

Name: Marching Wildcats
Members: 325
Location: Daytona Beach, Florida
Best Performance: Orlando, Florida’s Camping World Stadium

Orlando, Florida’s Camping World Stadium

Even as Bethune-Cookman was placed on probation in 2018 over serious concerns of governance and financial sustainability, the school somehow managed to continue its run boasting historically black college’s best marching band for the last three years. Of course, having your own reality series on Netflix (2018’s Marching Orders) certainly help raise your school profile. But beyond the hype, BCU’s boundless combination of talent and precision is evident. From their infectious musicality, intricate line formations (they actually threw up deuces to rival Florida A&M at 2019’s Florida Classic) and nimble footwork to their swaggering auxiliaries, the Marching Wildcats have no weakness. Let the band play!

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