By Emmanuel Freeman
NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — For a record ninth time, the Tennessee State University world-renowned Aristocrat of Bands looks to make a triumphant return to the Honda Battle of the Bands Invitational Showcase in Atlanta on Jan. 25.
This time, the marching band will arrive in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a newly donated, wrapped 53-foot trailer carrying the members’ equipment.
“We are very excited about the invitation and Honda’s continued commitment to HBCUs,” said Dr. Reginald McDonald, director of Bands. “To be selected for the most times to participate in the Honda Battle of the Bands says something about the direction of the program. It is particularly fulfilling to have this new and beautiful trailer that will further enhance our look and make traveling so much easier for band members.”
Named by The Undefeated recently as the Best HBCU Marching Band in America, the AOB joins only the Marching Storm of Prairie View A&M, and the Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band for the most appearances at the Honda Invitational, the nation’s premier showcase for HBCU marching bands.
“We are really glad for this recognition our band continues to receive with this record appearance,” McDonald added. “This is a huge recruitment tool for the university because typically at this event, not only do we have people who are extremely fond of HBCU bands, you also have high school kids from all across the nation that attend.”
Atlanta native Julien Dooley, a commercial music major and drum major with the AOB, has been to the Honda Battle of Bands before, but this will be his first as a drum major.
“This is extra special to perform before my hometown crowd as a member of the ‘Fantastic 4,’” Dooley, a senior, said, referring to the four-member team of drum majors who are all from Atlanta. “We are just excited to perform with the Aristocrats right before our families and friends.” The Fantastic 4 were also listed the No.1 Drum Majors in the Oct. 10 ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Ranking.
The trailer, a Great Dane 2011 with roll up doors recently unveiled on campus, eases transportation for the band, officials said. It is a gift from a Fortune 500 company , to be unnamed, with the persistence of a TSU graduate from the Memphis area who felt the band needed a better, less expensive and more convenient way of transporting their instruments.
“Today, when our 300-member band travels, they depend on the undercarriage of passenger buses to carry instruments, equipment and luggage, and this is fine for day trips,” said Georgia Whiting, a 1982 graduate of TSU and project engineer with Fed Ed. “When band members have to stay overnight, motor coaches do not meet the need, because most often our beloved AOB have to stuff their seats and aisles with their necessities.”
Realizing the need for a trailer to haul equipment and meet the transportation needs of the “Best Band in the Land,” Whiting, president of the TSU National Alumni Association Memphis/Shelby County Chapter, sprang into action and was able to get the trailer donated. To have the trailer wrapped and ready for the road, she set up a fundraiser. She said a few fellow alumni donated, and with the help of the TSU Foundation, the AOB staff, and Facilities Management, they were able to come up with the design and wrap for the trailer.
The wrap, decked in the TSU colors, depicts the marching band with its official emblem, name and the #AOBNation hashtag.
“We are just so grateful to Ms. Whiting, her Memphis folks, other alumni, the company and all who helped to make this trailer possible,” McDonald said. “In addition to the ease and convenience the trailer provides, it is a major recruitment tool for the university. We have our social media website on the back of the trailer, and on the sides, you see the Tennessee State University logo highly visible. This is a major help and we are thankful.”
In addition to the new trailer, the Beast Band ranking, and the Honda Invitational, the AOB is enjoying a stellar year of achievements and accolades. In April, during the NFL Draft in the Music City, the AOB were featured on the nationally syndicated ESPN sports talk show, First Take; the band received a shout out from pop star Lizzo for the band’s rendition of her “Truth Hurts” medley. In January, percussionists from the band performed in the Rose Parade. They were also featured performers at the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons’ 2019 home opener.