FAMU Marching Band Gets To Take Field Again After Hazing Death

Florida A&M's famed marching band got some good news on Thursday. School administrators at FAMU say the band can start performing again. In 2011, the university suspended the band after the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion. Now, the band is smaller and has undergone a host of other changes.

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Members of the famed marching band at Florida A&M University learned today that they will once again be allowed to perform. It's been nearly two years since the band was last heard. The group was suspended following the hazing death of one of its drum majors. As Lynn Hatter of Florida Public Radio reports, the university says it will take work to prove times have changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the Florida A&M University marching band.

LYNN HATTER, BYLINE: On Florida A&M's campus, a sense of normalcy almost, as band members get back to their first love.

It's a year of starting over for FAMU's Marching 100 band.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Dee-eet. One, two, three, up.

HATTER: Rehearsals are already under way. The band is known for its innovative pageantry and high-stepping performances. And baritone player Ronald Gray says the suspension was rough.

RONALD GRAY: And, you know, I'm excited to be back. Like, it throws you out of, kind of, rhythm. You know, you're so used to marching in the fall, you've done it since high school, and then you're missing for a year. So it's like you're missing a part of your life necessarily.

HATTER: Now, FAMU's Marching 100 band is about a third of its size before the suspension after the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion. Also new this year is terminology. Band director Sylvester Young says there are no more drum majors.

SYLVESTER YOUNG: In other words, it's sort of like retiring a jersey. That term has been retired with this band because of that. That's just out of respect on my part.

HATTER: Champion's death raised the profile of hazing, especially in other historically black university marching bands. And during a recent orientation meeting, FAMU president Larry Robinson said the death and subsequent fallout were not easy.

LARRY ROBINSON: Nobody was out there laughing at us. No one celebrated our difficulties. It was painful everywhere. Our circumstances caused everyone to take a look and ask themselves, could that have been us?

HATTER: FAMU's marching band now has limits on its practice hours. There's also a hazing czar and director of compliance. The school still faces a wrongful death lawsuit, and several former students await trial in Champion's death.

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HATTER: Despite the legal problems, new students are still joining the band. Beverly Rohan's son, Eric, is a freshman baritone player.

BEVERLY ROHAN: We've had the conversation that you have a mind of your own, you know what's right, you know what's wrong. You do not participate in those activities. If you see it going on, you report it. So we made that abundantly clear.

HATTER: Members say it's going to take a lot of work to rebuild the reputation of a group some had considered one of the best bands in the nation. For NPR News, I'm Lynn Hatter in Tallahassee.

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