By MARK F. GRAY, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]
The only thing missing from Bowie State’s CIAA championship celebration was its “soul” and they may not have it for quite some time. An ongoing investigation into hazing allegations regarding the school’s “Symphony of Soul” marching band has led to its indefinite suspension.
To this point there is no indication of injuries or foul play, but University officials acted swiftly to announce that all band activities are suspended- which not only affects the marching band, but the pep or concert bands as well. The bands are not able to practice or perform until further notice according to a statement released by Bowie State’s public information department.
“We have found sufficient evidence to confirm the existence of hazing activities; therefore, all performance activities remain suspended, including travel to the CIAA football championship game this weekend,” the University announced in a statement Wednesday.
Student musicians, who put as many hours perfecting their routines as players do for the games, were seemingly caught off guard by the allegations. Several spoke on camera to broadcast outlets prior to last weekend’s championship game after they were blindsided by the school’s clandestine decision and learning of the investigation.
“I don’t feel like we deserve this,” Band member Mya Jones told WJZ-TV in Baltimore. “We spent too much time and too much money especially for it to be taken away from us.”
The Symphony of Soul is one of the most popular bands in the CIAA and is as popular a draw as Bowie State’s sports teams. Undergraduate and alumni fans are drawn to their athletic events to listen and watch the band’s performances in the stands and on the field. During the CIAA Championship game, only Fayetteville State’s band performed at halftime, while the Bowie State side of the field was silent during the game.
“It’s unfortunate, we don’t have one of the biggest bands as far as HBCUs go, but when they play you hear them,” student Brandon Williams said to Fox 45 News. “I do hope that it comes to light and the people that were responsible get punished.”
The marching band subculture on HBCU campuses is one of its unique trademarks. Their legacy of preparation and performance has been a separate but equal part of the pageantry of the college football experience. What many outsiders consider hazing is a rite of passage for those who have marched before them. Marching band participants seem to relish following in the footsteps of their predecessors which includes, in many cases, bonding rituals that newcomers endure like fraternity or sorority pledging.
“They called it family bonding from what I heard,” Alumnus Darryl Kinsey, told Fox 45 News also. “The one situation that I know of, is there was a situation with them where they couldn’t step on the grass. If they stepped on the grass, they would be run “ragged,” if not they would end up off the band.”
The glorifying of the HBCU bands amongst mainstream college sports fans began with the movie “Drumline” where the fictional Atlanta A&T University band dramatized the culture of what previously had been an aside to Black college football Saturdays. However, after the 2011 death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion following the Florida Classic, the practices of HBCU bands are more scrutiny than before.
“Bowie State University has become aware of serious allegations of hazing affecting the Symphony of Soul Band,” the University said in a statement that was emailed Friday. “In light of these allegations, the university has suspended all band activity effective immediately to ensure the continued safety of our students, pending further internal investigation.”