Jackson State's `Sonic Boom of the South'

JACKSON STATE coach W.C. Gorden calls football ``the main course'' of the Circle City Classic, with the other activities merely ``ingredients.'' At least 900 people would beg to differ. That's how many bought tickets during the fourth quarter of last year's game, not in anticipation of an exciting finish, but of the Battle of the Bands that followed.

Black-college bands are high-voltage, must-see attractions that nearly wipe out half-time concession sales. ``We want to give fans something to cheer about,'' says Dowell Taylor, director of bands for Jackson State University.

Like many black-college bands, the school's 160-member ``Sonic Boom of the South'' uses the high-step, rather than the smoother corps marching style.

In its traditional ``Tiger Run On,'' however, the band takes the field using a 360-steps-per-minute maneuver. ``That's when the crowd can't stand it any longer and the other band wants to pack up and go home,'' Mr. Taylor says.

The ``Run On'' lasts just 32 counts, but the energy level remains high, especially when the marchers, who have memorized their music, simultaneously play and dance to today's hits.

``Black bands must do dance routines,'' says Emory Fears, band director at Norfolk (Va.) State. ``If they don't, they'll get run out of the stadium.''

To achieve the desired fitness, calisthenics are a staple of Jackson State's two-week, pre-season band camp. Male and female musicians and members of the ``Prancing J-Settes'' dance team sweat it out together during the daily 5 a.m.-to-10 p.m. regimen. The exercise cadence is done Sonic Boom style: Son-ic-boom-1, Son-ic-boom-2...

The strongest influence for black-college bands, Taylor says, is their shared ``African heritage. Our rhythms have an African flavor, especially some of our drumbeats.''

Black bands generally go on the road more than other college contingents, and change their shows frequently to please demanding, but appreciative audiences. As campus ambassadors, they stand ready to travel far and wide - even overseas if the occasion merits. It did this past summer for Florida A&M's Marching 100, the only American group to perform in the Paris parade, marking the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

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