Howard University Band Bound For Inauguration Howard University's Showtime Marching Band will be one of six outfits from historically black colleges and universities playing in the inaugural parade for Barack Obama. It is the first time the Washington, D.C., band will perform at an inauguration.
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Howard University Band Bound For Inauguration

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Howard University Band Bound For Inauguration

Howard University Band Bound For Inauguration

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

Every night this past week on the campus of Howard University here in Washington, D.C., the halls of the fine arts building have been alive with the sound of music.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

HANSEN: Four young men are beating wooden drumsticks on a plywood board. Their eyes are focused. Their arms move in sync again and again and again. They're the snare players in the drum line of Howard University's Showtime Marching Band.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

HANSEN: This practice session is crucial because on Tuesday, they will perform for newly inaugurated President Barack Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

HANSEN: Howard's marching band is among the some 90 groups in Tuesday's inaugural parade. And drum line co-captain Renaldo Biddy said that makes him quite proud.

RENALDO BIDDY: This is something I could tell my grandkids, my great grandkids, like I was actually able to perform in the inauguration parade for our first black president. And I'm very proud of it.

HANSEN: John Newson has been the director of the Showtime Marching Band for 22 years. Under his direction, the group has performed at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, in music videos, and in NFL halftime shows. But this is the first time Newson applied to be in an inaugural parade.

JOHN NEWSOM: I'm not a parade person. And don't get me wrong, we've done major parades in Macy's and so forth. But this was one that I felt that I personally wanted to do. And I told the band back in August that I wanted to do the inaugural parade this year. And, you know, so I told them to kind of put it - pencil it in and go from there.

HANSEN: You penciled it in in August, and that was before Election Day.

NEWSOM: Yeah.

HANSEN: And so you were...

NEWSOM: No.

HANSEN: No.

NEWSOM: I'm just a good prayer that's all.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HANSEN: Before his prayers were answered, Newson had to send videos, photos, and an essay to the inaugural committee. More than 1,300 groups applied to be in the parade, but the committee was inspired to give one of those coveted parade spots to Howard. What was your reaction?

NEWSOM: I just got out of the shower, so I dried off. And after I dried off, I shouted, and I was glad. And you know, I said, I thanked the Lord for that because I was hoping and praying that we would get selected.

HANSEN: But the news came in at an inconvenient time. Newson got the call last month during final exams, and students were getting ready to head home for the holidays. So rehearsal time is very short.

NEWSOM: We didn't get started until Wednesday of last week. That's when everybody got back in town. So this is pretty much our fourth rehearsal.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOWARD UNIVERSITY'S SHOWTIME MARCHING BAND PRACTICE)

HANSEN: And it becomes obvious that the trumpet section needs some work.

NEWSON: Those (unintelligible) after C, make sure you all hold those all the way out for the sixth beat.

(SOUNDBITE OF HUMMING)

NEWSON: Question?

HANSEN: John Newson also brought in other musicians to augment the band's sound.

NEWSON: What we've done is combine the band and we have some students from the jazz ensemble, some of the students from the concert band, and some alumni.

HANSEN: Guy Taylor Edmondson(ph) is one of those alumni. He plays the alto saxophone. How are you going to keep your concentration when you're going by, you know, the viewing box, yeah?

GUY TAYLOR EDMONDSON: That's easy.

HANSEN: Are you sure?

TAYLOR EDMONDSON: I mean - well, my history, personally, I was in the movie "Drumline" in my high school year. So, you know, I had that in the backburner. I also was in a Lil Kim(ph) video shoot when I came to Howard for the jump off. So it's not - it's no big thing for me to be in, you know, a big star atmosphere. I know how to keep it professional. I also know how to play when it's time to play.

HANSEN: Yeah.

TAYLOR EDMONDSON: So...

HANSEN: But admit it, how excited are you?

TAYLOR EDMONDSON: Extremely. I'm probably going to jump out of my skin when we pass by and I see him. I'm going to be like, how you doing? And keep on going, you know, so...

HANSEN: How are you preparing yourself for the parade? It's going to be cold. It's going to be long. How are you going to keep your lips from sticking to your mouthpiece?

TAYLOR EDMONDSON: Unidentified Women: One, two, four, six, eight.

HANSEN: Unidentified Women: Ooh La La!

HANSEN: Unidentified Woman: Show up. Show out. Shut it down.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HANSEN: The Ooh La Las, the saxophonists, drummers, and all the members of the Showtime Band are focused on doing their absolute best. Actually that's the polite way of saying, they're ready to bring it. They're not only performing for the president, but there could be some bragging rights up for grabs too. Howard is among the six historically black colleges appearing in the parade. The other bands are from Florida A&M, Arkansas Pine Bluff, Delaware State, Grambling State in Louisiana, and the other H.U., Hampton University in Virginia. Are we going to see a battle of the bands down Pennsylvania Avenue?

NEWSON: I do not think so. Everybody's asking that question, but the way they have the parade structured, none of us are close to each other, which is - maybe is good in a way.

HANSEN: John Newson says Howard will be one of the last bands in the parade. So I thought that might give his band a chance to blow everyone else out of the water. Not quite.

NEWSON: Well, we got Ohio State coming behind us. So...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NEWSON: But we're going to do our thing. And if we get a chance to stop and do something, we will.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOWARD UNIVERSITY'S SHOWTIME MARCHING BAND PRACTICE)

HANSEN: This is a very big deal for the band and Howard - big enough for the president of the university, Sidney Ribeau, to come to rehearsal and say a few words of encouragement.

SIDNEY RIBEAU: We're so glad that you're going to be participating in an inauguration event. That should be fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

RIBEAU: Yeah, yeah. The real president, President Barack Obama, will be kind of coming in, and you need to bring him in with style. And it couldn't be a parade, inauguration parade, without Howard University.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

RIBEAU: That's - we couldn't, we couldn't do that.

HANSEN: So the final question for John Newson is - what are you going to play?

NEWSON: Well, I would say it was a secret, but we - on the application, we had to put a tune down, and we had put down "Signed, Sealed, and Delivered" because that was one of Barack Obama's favorite artists, Stevie Wonder. And after I found out that it was about four or five of the bands playing the same song, we've changed ours. And so, you know, it's no secret now, but we're playing the tune entitled "The Boss" by Diana Ross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "THE BOSS" PERFORMED BY THE SHOWTIME MARCHING BAND)

NEWSON: And it's not so much about the song itself, it's about the title. And Barack Obama, being the president, he is the boss. And so this is our tune, and I'm hoping nobody that's listening to this would take our tune before we play it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HANSEN: And on Tuesday, you can see all the inauguration day action at npr.org where you'll find live video and photo galleries of the day's events as well as up to the minute analysis and live chats. And don't forget to check out our blog, npr.org/soapbox, for video blogs from high school students Alyssa Roberts and Olivia Rudeen about their journey to the inauguration.

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