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How Morgan State's new leader prepares for the Battle of the Bands

Morgan State's dance team practices before heading to Alabama for the Battle of the Bands.
Shan Wallace
/
NPR
Morgan State's dance team practices before heading to Alabama for the Battle of the Bands.

Updated February 18, 2023 at 8:27 AM ET

Morgan State University's "Magnificent Marching Machine" band is making its debut appearance at the 2023 Honda Battle of the Bands showcase on Saturday. Six HBCU bands will compete in the competition.

The milestone is happening during the first year of the new band director Dr. Jorim Reid.

"I didn't want to be a band director," Reid said. "I wanted to be an assistant band director where I would just be able to write, teach and compose, arrange music, but, you know, the universe had other plans."

Reid says today's appearance in the Battle of the Bands is an opportunity to continue to build up Morgan State's band program and the musical dreams of his band members.
Shan Wallace / NPR
/
NPR
Reid says today's appearance in the Battle of the Bands is an opportunity to continue to build up Morgan State's band program and the musical dreams of his band members.

The Honda Battle of the Bands is an annual marching band show featuring marching bands from Historically Black colleges and universities. It started in 2003 and the event was hosted in Atlanta, GA from 2003-2020. The event attracts more than 50,000 spectators annually.

Alabama State University is hosting this year's event and Morgan State will be playing along with bands like Savannah State University from Georgia and Langston University from Oklahoma.

Reid made six previous appearances at the Battle of the Bands show at North Carolina Central University. But this time his M-3 band will be the most northern of the six HBCU bands for his appearance, and he expects Morgan State to bring a different sound to this show.

"We're still the South," Reid explains.

"The Mason-Dixon line is above us. But from a perception standpoint to a cultural standpoint, in a lot of ways, it's not the South to some or too many."

Tory James (R) practices before heading to Alabama for the Battle of the Bands.
Shan Wallace / NPR
/
NPR
Tory James (R) practices before heading to Alabama for the Battle of the Bands.

Tory James, the lead drum major, is excited about the music.

"A lot of people don't know about our Baltimore culture and music," James said before Morgan State's practice last Tuesday.

"So that's what we're trying to integrate and make sure that people can see, like the Tems joint, that's a Baltimore thing and it's starting to get big, but we want to make sure people actually notice where we come from and what kind of stuff we really do."

Nyree Jackson, a trombone player in her second year with the band, is happy with the band's new direction.

"As a child when I was in middle school, I always jumped to do something like this," Jackson said after the band's practice.

"It's like I'm scared and I'm fangirling at the same time."

Reid doesn't want to bring awareness of what the M-3 band can do just to the south. He wants aspiring musicians from around the world to know what Morgan State can do for them.

"We have a great choir that is an internationally renowned choir. I would like to see us be the mecca of music."

Jackson is looking forward to what her appearance in today's showcase will do for her in the future.

"It will give me a legacy to pass on to my family," Jackson added.

Reid says the Battle of the Bands showcase is also an opportunity for Morgan State's band program to continue to grow and for his band members to pursue their musical dreams.

"It's going to be a different experience, a different behavior, a different sound, a different look. How they walk, how they sit, how they talk. And that alone is more valuable than anything, just having that experience and exposure."

Regardless of how Morgan State or the other five bands do on Saturday, they share a common bond that makes them special.

"It's the B, the black, (and) HBCU is the B; the blackness is what makes it special," Reid said.

"That music, that grit. And when I say grit, I mean it's not the limited resources that we often have compared to other institutions. But you wouldn't know it because of the talent. That's why I talk about the B. We just have to find a way to be great. And I think that's what makes us unique and that's what I love about our schools."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: February 18, 2023 at 8:00 PM AKST
A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Morgan State University's "Mighty Marching Machine" band. In fact, it's called the "Magnificent Marching Machine" band.
Ben Abrams