Marching bands a major part of Southern Heritage Classic experience

Southern Heritage Classic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Southern Heritage Classic is more than just a game and tailgating — it’s also a performance put on by two of the baddest bands in the South: TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands” and JSU’s Sonic Boom of the South.

The band directors at each school say, even though you won’t hear their drums and trumpets in the streets of Memphis, the music is still playing.

With the Southern Heritage Classic parade cancelled due to the pandemic, the streets of Orange Mound will remain silent this year — no dancers twirling and no drummers drumming.

But if you listen closely, you may be able to hear what sounds like trumpets. Or is it a tuba?

“It’s just something that you take for granted almost in a sense, and after this year, I will never take it for granted again,” said Reginald McDonald, Tennessee State’s director of bands.

For decades, the Aristocrat of Bands and the Sonic Boom of the South have marched their way through the streets of Memphis, celebrating the Southern Heritage Classic. 

Students spend weeks preparing for what may be the biggest performance of their lives.

“It’s just preparation. It’s determination. It’s the seriousness. It’s professionalism,” said Demarkis Edwards, an alum of TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands, 1994-97. “All to put together that eight minute show.”

Edwards said that as a child watching the bands march through his streets, to being the one watched, it’s a feeling like no other.

The music didn’t stop at graduation for Edwards. He now takes the discipline, dedication and determination he learned on the field to a different arena.

You may not see him in his marching uniform but you may catch him on the radio on WRBO 103.5 or DJing the next hot event under the name D.J. Swagg.

He said the bands’ performances have played a vital role in influencing some of Memphis’ most underserved youth.

“The parade goes straight through Orange Mound,” he said. “It’s almost like a sense of pride.”

Raleigh Egypt High band director and Jackson State Sonic Boom of the South alum Christopher Douglas agrees. When kids see an HBCU band play, they want to go to the Classic with jackson State of TSU.

Douglas said he was encouraged by his former high school band director to attend JSU.

Years later, he picked up the torch, applying the band principles he learned from “the Boom” into his beloved Pharaohs.

“I have drilled it so much that I have kids who want to go to Jackson State,” Douglas said. “I have a senior at Jackson State. My first senior.”

Decades of inspiring youth has helped build and grow the two bands into the memorizing and majestic sounds we know and love today.

Both TSU and JSU’s band directors say many of their band members are from Memphis.

“We do have a lot of those stories saying that, ‘I saw the Sonic Boom of the South the first time in Memphis, Tennessee at the Southern Heritage Classic and it changed my life forever,’” said Roderick Little, Jackson State’s director of bands.

Both directors say without the Classic or any performances, they are taking the time to go back to square one, looking at the fundamentals to enhance and perfect their craft.

“COVID-19 is an adversity that all of us are forced to deal with, and when you’re dealing with something, you want to be positive and you want to keep a winners mindset at all times,” McDonald said.

Little said the pandemic is just temporary, and they’re looking toward the future.

“We’re coming back in the atmosphere that we all love, and the Sonic Boom of the South is going to be bigger, better and greater than ever,” he said.

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