Bands bring the beat to MLK-Black History Month Parade
Southern High School Spartan dancers stretched in their bright red and white tracksuits, helping each other adjust their makeup. Standing in the middle of someone’s driveway off Fayetteville Street, the band drumline practiced on their snare drums, the sharp tipa-tapa tipa-tapa reverberating across the street and into the cemetery beyond.
Musicians from around the region lined up Saturday, preparing to march toward N.C. Central University campus as part of the city’s 12th parade to celebrate Black History Month and Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. Nine bands were listed on the parade route.
Southern High School Band Boosters staff member and mom Lisa Bradley held her smartphone up, squinting against the sun as she took pictures of the teens in their uniforms. They also were performing alongside their friendly rival, Hillside High.
“It’s a young group and they’re very excited, very energetic,” Bradley said. “They love what they do. … This event promotes unity and fairness and equality, and it’s important for us to be a part of that, to show the youth want those kinds of things, too.”
Her son, 16-year-old Quenci, is one of the band’s drum majors, and he examined the rows of young musicians before they received the signal to begin their march. A silver and red cape billowed behind him.
“We might play a song that gets us really excited and hyped,” Quenci said of warming up for a parade. “We have a certain stamina about us.”
A few feet behind him, the New Orleans-inspired community band Bulltown Strutters grabbed their banners and began lining up. The musicians donned feather masks, sequined jackets and Mardi Gras beads to promote their Mardi Gras Parade on March 4.
Cathy Kielar, who helped found the Bulltown Strutters with her husband, called her gold and black sequined coat her “Elvis jacket.” She carried a rainbow duster, swinging it around. The community “Strutters” range in age from their early 20s to mid-70s.
“We’re just excited to share New Orleans music with everybody,” she said, which included paying homage to New Orleans musicians such as Louis Armstrong.
The N.C. Central University Marching Sound Machine was blocks away from campus, knees high as they marched in place. NCCU drum major Patrick Jones said he had wanted the band’s leadership role ever since he started college. He’s now a post-grad, attending NCCU for his teaching license to pursue a band director position.
“It’s a lot bigger than it’s been in the past,” Jones said of the parade. He gripped his shako, a drum major’s ceremonial tall, furry hat, in his hands.
“You always want to make sure you’re showing your best to people,” he said.
Bands from Raleigh to Greensboro traveled to participate, to include Aycock Middle School in Greensboro and Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh.
On the corner of Cornwallis Road and Fayetteville Street, Zee McNish and her daughter watched the musicians play their instruments and wait for their cues. More than a half hour before showtime, families set out their lawn chairs along Fayetteville Street or sat on the brick walls of NCCU campus.
“It’s a fun afternoon, and I didn’t want to stay inside because it’s a really important event,” McNish said. “It’s in recognition of Martin Luther King. He means so much to the community at-large.”
Her 4-year-old daughter, Zaharah, fidgeted in her smaller lawn chair. She had collected pieces of bubble gum and Life Savers tossed from parade cars. Children ran into the closed-off street, collecting the plastic-wrapped goodies from the pavement.
“I love parades because they throw out candy,” she said.