It’s been nearly two years since the sound of Florida A&M University’s band was last heard. Now the ensemble is back, and band and university leaders say it’s going to take a lot of work to prove to the world that times have changed.
This time around, FAMU’s Marching 100 band is closer to its official name—with a current roster of 198 musicians. That’s about half the size the band that, in 2011, was placed on suspension following the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion. Also new is the terminology. there are no more “drum majors” in the Marching 100.
“It’s sort of like retiring a jersey," said Band Director Sylvester Young. "That term has been retired with this band, because of that. That’s just out of respect, on my part. And that’s what we’re living with, and that’s ‘field commander'.
Champion’s name is never far from anyone’s mind. That was made clear by University President Larry Robinson, who delivered a frank synopsis of the year and half following the drum major’s death, and the fallout from it:
“Nobody was out there laughing at us. No one celebrated our difficulties. It was painful everywhere. Our circumstances caused everyone to take a look and say, could that have been us?"
Still, as the school continues to face a wrongful death lawsuit, and several remaining defendants await trial in Champion’s death, the Marching 100 is moving on.
Despite the negative headlines, and bad publicity there are brand new students joining the band under the watchful eyes of their director and their parents. One of those parents is Beverly Rohan, whose son Eric is a freshman baritone and euphonium player this year. Eric went to Southwest Dekalb High School, in Atlanta – Robert Champion’s alma mater.
“We’ve had the conversation that, you have a mind of your own... you know right from wrong. You don’t participate in those activities. if you see it, you report it... so we made that abundantly clear,” Rohan said.
It’s a year of starting over for the band. Daily rehearsals are now underway as the group prepares to perform. Those practices are now rigidly timed and it’s still uncertain whether the group will play at the season-opening football game, Labor Day weekend in Orlando.
Though the tradition of the band remains, many upperclassmen do not. So alumni, who remember the band’s former incarnation, have been called in to teach a more inexperienced Marching 100.