Since 2002, the HBCU All-Star Battle of Bands has been a showcase for the musical dexterity of Black students and is the largest marching band and dance team exhibition in the world.
The all-star band battle will take place on February 4, 2023 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. This year’s participants are the Mighty Marching Hornets of Alabama State University, the Blue and Gold Marching Machine of North Carolina A&T, the Marching Wildcats The Pride of Bethune-Cookman University, the Marching 101 of South Carolina State University, the Spartan Legion Band of Norfolk State University, and the Aristocrat of Bands of Tennessee State University. Also, two of Atlanta's top high school marching bands of Pebblebrook and Westlake High Schools will be on hand to put their skills on display
Rashan Ali and KD Rowe, popular media personalities and philanthropists who are fixtures in the Atlanta community, are set to host this epic event. EBONY spoke with them about HBCU culture, why Atlanta is the capital of Black excellence, and who they think will win the competition.
EBONY: How did it feel when you received the call to host the Battle of the Bands?
Rashan Ali: I was so excited to get the call. I already have a great relationship with KD. We worked together on my podcast. When I would have events for my nonprofit, he would always allow me to share what I had going on. I was born in Atlanta, raised in Decatur, and I went to an HBCU. So it's an honor for me to be a part of this.
KD Bowe: I was a little shocked when I got the call but really grateful. Mercedes Benz stadium is no foreign place to me. I've always enjoyed being there with my work with the Falcons and at different events and I love being in front of people. But this was the creme de la creme in my opinion because to have this many Black people assemble all in one place will be so much fun. It's so empowering. It's a feeling that you can't eloquently put into words, but it's like the past, the future and the present all convening in a fun, exciting way.
I once heard someone say that Atlanta is the capital of Black America. What makes Atlanta such an ideal location for Black people?
Bowe: When I think about Atlanta, I think about it being a place of possibility. You have the movie industry, the music scene and the entrepreneurial scene in the city. It has blown up here because Black people just decided that we're going to showcase the best version of us. And because so many of us were here, it was able to be fertilized in a different kind of way from the HBCUs to the business community and all of it. Atlanta is just that spot.
Ali: You have Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouseand Morris Brown. Atlanta is the epicenter of HBCUs in the South. So, it just makes sense for it to take place here in Atlanta.
Rashan, as a proud HBCU graduate, can you explain the significance of the marching bands at HBCUs for those who may be unaware?
Ali: One thing about HBCU football, historically, it's where most of your elite athletes came from. So when there was no opportunity to be in the SEC, the ACC, or any of these schools that these kids can go to now, there were HBCUs. So we had top-notch athletes at our schools for a very long time. Think of Eddie Robinson or Joe Gilliam, Sr, I'm from that era. My dad is a legendary high school football coach so we had relationships with both of those coaches. But because of the level of prestigious Blackness that came from these schools, you knew the band experience was going to be equal to or even exceed it because there was a standard of high-level musicianship and artistry. While the football game was important, the marching band was equally as important. The music adds to the totality of the experience. Everybody may not understand the schemes of football, but everybody understands the sound of a band. And we understand what band sounds better [Laughs].
Lastly to you KD, do you have a favorite band that you're cheering for to win the competition?
Bowe: When I first started doing this like 15 years ago, I did have some schools I was cheering for. But now when the bands show up, especially the ones that didn't get an opportunity to get in before, they bring their A-game. So you know, Tennessee is always gonna show out. That's just what that is. They just put it down like that. But when everyone shows up and does something the same or different, you just root for everybody. What did Issa Rae say? I'm rooting for everybody Black.