By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
Vice President Kamala Harris dons her HBCU education, like her Blackness, Southasian ancestry and womanhood, proudly. Thus, when Howard University Showtime Marching Band learned they were asked to escort Harris into the inaugural ceremony, the proverbial shoe fit perfectly for the barrier breaking leader.
“Throughout her career, the [Vice President] has carried her Howard education with her, ensuring that she adheres to truth and service and inspiring her to achieve unprecedented levels of excellence,” said Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick. “It is perfectly fitting that the Showtime Marching Band, the ensemble that captures and reverberates the heartbeat of our institution, should accompany her on [the] last leg of her journey to the White House. It was that steady pulse of her alma mater’s legacy that propelled her forward, and it is that same rhythm that will carry her onward as she undoubtedly will become one of the most influential vice presidents in the history of our nation.”
Despite going almost a year without practicing as a group due to COVID-19 restrictions, Showtime Marching Band showed up, practiced and “showed out” at the Jan. 20 inauguration.
“We are proud to unite safely as a band to represent Howard University, [Vice President] Kamala Harris and all HBCUs across the country,” Howard University Band Director Kelvin Washington said in a press release prior to the historic performance. “It’s a very gracious opportunity for us, and we’re very thankful for it.”
With such short notice, Washington was the perfect person to lead the band with two inaugurations already under his belt.
“I had the pleasure to perform as a student at Southern University in 1980 for former President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, then as associate director of the Howard University Band for former President Barack Obama and now this one would be my third,” Washington explained.
Other marching band experts, such as Dennis Gully, added expertise to the short preparation time.
“I have been with the program since 1994 when I travelled from Chicago, IL to begin my journey as a freshman with the prestigious Howard University Showtime Marching Band,” Gully, a band percussion coordinator, told the AFRO. “When I graduated in 1999, I was asked to fill the position of being the percussion coordinator and I have been proud to contribute to the growth and maturity of the program ever since- especially helping to groom the percussion section a.k.a ‘Thunder Machine.’”
However, even with seasoned leadership, the preparation was filled with COVID precautions and a quick turnaround to get into gear.
“I learned of this amazing opportunity just a couple of weeks ago and was tasked with helping directors gather the young percussionists for a socially distanced in-person rehearsal,” explained Lead Percussion Coordinator Bryan Washington. “Every student was sent music virtually and had to present negative Covid Test results and isolate themselves for two weeks prior to our first rehearsal.”
“The rehearsal process had its challenges. Due to the strict health and safety protocols brought on by the pandemic, we had to produce a different approach to how we practiced together as an ensemble. The first challenge was making sure we could assemble a good number of students to be able to participate and present a worthy performance. Due to the pandemic, academic instruction on campus has been shut down. We initially did the best we could virtually rehearsing for the performance. Once we were able to safely get a nice representation back on campus for rehearsals, our goal was to perfect the music, technique, and showmanship that has always been a staple when you see the Howard University Showtime Marching Band,” Gully said.
Once the band was ready to gather, there was still a learning curve.
“This has been an expedited process because this is the first time the Drumline has gathered in person since February 2020. It is also significant because we have Freshman students that are participating with the band for the very first time. It’s amazing how the student’s first performance since the pandemic will be to honor Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris,” Washington told the AFRO.
With the high honor of performing for the Vice President elect, came major responsibilities.
“The key to our preparation for this inaugural performance was consistent repetition,” Gully explained. “In order to ensure that the rhythms we play gel and sound like one cohesive unit, we continuously practiced for hours to refamiliarize ourselves as a unit. Music wasn’t the only factor we had to focus on, it was very important that we condition ourselves to have the physical stamina to perform after being inactive for so long. Reconditioning the body to deal with carrying the weight of the instrument over a certain course of time is vital. If your stamina and endurance is low the musical performance could be negatively impacted.”
Washington shared his excitement in beholding and contributing to such a historic occasion.
“I am especially elated as a HBCU graduate to not only witness the inauguration of the first Woman, first Black and first South Asian woman Vice President, but to also help prepare a performance that honors her,” Washington said the evening before the inauguration. “It is an unfathomable feeling.”
Gully echoed Washington’s sentiments with insight on the significance of Showtime playing for the groundbreaking Vice President and the major potential for Harris’ overall impact.
“As Vice President Harris enters into this unprecedented phase in our nation’s history, she can feel comforted in knowing that her Bison family was there to usher her into this prestigious occasion. The Howard University drumline will provide the energy Madam Vice President Harris will need to overcome any obstacles she may face upon her journey in helping to heal our nation,” Gully said. “Vice President Harris will be the first to accomplish many things in her career. She is truly a guiding light of perseverance and accomplishment for many who continuously are bombarded with challenging obstacles to obtain success, especially women of color. The path has been established for many to follow and create their own significant contributions to helping to make this nation a multicultural beacon for the world to see. There’s no better feeling than knowing our Madame Vice President Kamala Harris is leading the way- a true representation of Howard University. The Mecca!”