Jackson State’s Sonic Boom of the South is ready to prove it’s ESPN’s ‘Band of the Year’

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In this contributed photo, members of Jackson State University’s The Sonic Boom of the South marching band get ready for a halftime performance.

In this contributed photo, members of Jackson State University’s The Sonic Boom of the South marching band get ready for a halftime performance. Jackson State will face North Carolina A&T University’s The Blue and Gold Marching Machine in ESPN’s inaugural “Band of the Year” competition on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023, in Atlanta.

Photo courtesy of Jackson State University

On Friday, Jackson State University’s marching band will be dancing, strutting and grooving at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in a head-to-head competition with North Carolina A&T University.

But The Sonic Boom of the South’s clash with The Blue and Gold Marching Machine isn’t a typical battle of the bands. The winner of this battle will crown the “Band of the Year” among historically Black colleges and universities, at least according to ESPN. 

The contest marks the first time that the sports network is hosting the competition “to establish a competitive platform for HBCU marching bands and crown a season-long national champion of Division I and Division II bands.” 

Jackson State and North Carolina A&T are the two Division I bands selected for the competition. The two bands gunning for the top spot in Division II are Florida Memorial University’s The Roar and Virginia State University’s Trojan Explosion. Roderick Little, band director for Jackson State, said he is grateful for the opportunity to showcase The Sonic Boom of the South. 

“It was just immense gratitude for my students and the work that they do,” Little said.

Little, who is an alum of Jackson State, believes this competition can be a showcase for anyone who may have never seen their band — or any HBCU band — before. 

“What I’m hoping people get from our performance is the best version of The Sonic Boom of the South that they’ve ever seen,” he said.

Courtney Brammer practices with The Sonic Boom of the South. Brammer leads the Jackson State band’s clarinet section.
Courtney Brammer practices with The Sonic Boom of the South. Brammer leads the Jackson State band’s clarinet section. (Photo courtesy of Jackson State University)

Fans of all schools involved who can’t be in Atlanta can stream the show on Friday at 5 p.m. CST on ESPN3 and ESPN Plus. The competition will serve as a prelude to the Cricket Celebration Bowl, regularly referred to as the HBCU national championship game between the top teams in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. This year, the game will feature the Howard University Bison taking on the Florida A&M University.

The spot in the finale is the latest accolade for The Sonic Boom to hang its hat on. Little also mentioned that Jackson State received an invitation to perform in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, in 2025.

A selection committee made up of band directors and performance experts chose the top four bands out of 20 based on graded halftime performances during the football season. The committee released monthly power rankings for both divisions, rating schools on their auxiliaries, drum majors, musicality, percussion and picture/drill design. The judges will evaluate them in the final based on their precision, originality, showmanship, and musicianship. 

Jacobe Weaver, Jackson State’s baritone head section leader, said he constantly checked the ESPN rankings each week to see where The Sonic Boom was in the standings. 

“Us being students and band heads, we took a sneak peek at the list to see where we were,” Weaver said. “But we always knew our worth no matter where we were on the list.”

LaNeia Taylor prepares for a halftime performance with The Sonic Boom of the South. Taylor is the captain of the Prancing J-Settes, Jackson State’s dance team.
LaNeia Taylor prepares for a halftime performance with The Sonic Boom of the South. Taylor is the captain of the Prancing J-Settes, Jackson State’s dance team. (Photo courtesy of Jackson State University)

LaNeia Taylor, the captain of the Prancing J-Settes dance team, wasn’t initially aware of dancers being graded alongside the band. But once she saw that were at the top of the rankings at one point during the season and heard about the competition in Atlanta, she knew it was “time to go to work”. 

“We’re the first team to be in this battle,” she said. “Being the captain and being on this team this year is very humbling and a great experience.”

As for the performance, The Sonic Boom says it is pulling out all the stops, including new tricks and a few surprises, for its performance.

Courtney Brammer, a Georgia native who leads JSU’s clarinet section, said she will have family coming to see the performance live, adding to her pre-performance jitters. But as for the competition, that’s something she’s not worried about.

“We’re focused on Jackson State because Jackson State is the best,” Brammer said.

This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between Mississippi Public BroadcastingWBHM in Alabama, WWNO and WRKF in Louisiana and NPR

 

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