Two of the best from the HBCU band world —Tennessee State University Aristocrat of Bands and Norfolk State University Spartan Legion — are set to square off this weekend.
Both bands come into the contest ranked in the top ten in the initial ESPN Band of The Year rankings. Tennessee State is ranked seventh among Division I bands, two spots behind Norfolk State.
The Norfolk State University Spartan Legion has long been one of the Crown Jewels of the East Coast HBCU scene, dating back to band’s CIAA days. Its tradition has remained strong throughout the years, and with schools like North Carolina A&T (no. 2), Bethune Cookman (no. 3) and Florida A&M (no. 6), and even Hampton (no. 11) leaving the MEAC over the last half-decade, it is now the unquestioned leader amongst bands in the conference. South Carolina State is the only other band from a MEAC school in the top 10.
Here is what the committee had to say about NSU’s initial submission to the Band of The Year:
“Norfolk is another HBCU band program that doesn’t get all of the hype and fanfare as other programs,” the committee wrote. “If you have never seen or heard them, PLEASE go to YouTube and check them out. From brass, to percussion, to auxiliaries this is one of the best bands in America. They are a former ESPN #1 ranked band and a solid contender to make it to Atlanta.”
The Tennessee State University Aristocrat of Bands is another band that flies slightly under the radar due to the fact that its football program does not play in a traditional HBCU conference. TSU typically plays two to three games against HBCU competition early in the year before virtually disappearing off the HBCU scene until showcase season. But the AOB is a rare treat indeed. It made headlines back in earlier this year when it won a Grammy for its album “The Urban Hymnal,” and it is definitely a contender for Band of The Year.
“You better believe the first HBCU Band in history to ever receive a Grammy Award is more than qualified to make it to the ATL in December,” the committee wrote in its post-ranking note. “Director of Bands, Dr. Reginald McDonald is from Atlanta and would love nothing better than to claim the 1st ever ESPN Band of the year in his hometown.”
Having both bands on hand for Tennessee State homecoming is a rare treat for lovers of HBCU marching bands. Because of limited band travel in the MEAC and playing in the OVC, both squads rarely meet opposing bands that can give them a run for their money. While the ESPN Band of the Year isn’t decided off of head-to-head battling, this weekend looks to provide both programs with a chance to really show why they are amongst the best in the land — and why they deserve a chance to compete for the national title on Dec. 15.
Don’t be surprised if you see either of these bands in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on the eve of the Celebration Bowl. But for now, if you’re anywhere near Nashville, you might want to head into Nissan Stadium and witness two of the best in the business battle it out in the stands and on the field.