More than a Football Game: Women at the forefront of Grambling State University Band’s 2021 Bayou Classic Performance

Jalien Edwards, GSU Band photographer

Photos courtesy of Jalien Edwards, GSU Band photographer

 Two women making history are at the forefront of Grambling State University’s World-Famed Tiger Marching Band’s Bayou Classic performance this year. Dr. Nikole Roebuck, who made history in 2019 as the first female Band Director and Candace Hawthorne, who made history in August 2021 as the first female Drum Major in 70 years, are leading the band as they prepare for two shows this weekend at the Bayou Classic, which many refer to as the “HBCU Superbowl”.

The highly anticipated match-up between Louisiana rivalry schools Grambling State University and Southern University and A&M College at the Bayou Classic football game isn’t the only reason thousands of people will be traveling to the Caesars Superdome this weekend. Many people are looking forward to watching the Grambling State University World-Famed Tiger Marching Band take over the field.

This will be the band’s first Bayou Classic performance since 2019. The band will perform in the Caesars Superdome at the Battle of the Bands event on November 26 and during the football game at halftime on November 27.

Hawthorne and the band watch the football game with the GSU Orchesis dancers.

Living up to the Legacy

The World-Famed Tiger Marching Band has been preparing since June for its performance at the Bayou Classic. The 2020 Bayou Classic was held in Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana due to protocols in New Orleans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

GSU Band Director Dr. Roebuck played clarinet in the band while she was a student at GSU. Roebuck performed at each Bayou Classic when she was a student. However, she said that this year’s Classic has a different level of pressure because this is the band’s first Bayou Classic performance since 2019.

“We’ve been preparing for the classic before the semester began, starting with band camp in the summer,” Roebuck said.” “The pandemic really affected us because we couldn’t perform for a year and a half. “There is a lot of pressure because many people are wondering how we are going to perform at the Classic.”

Roebuck looks into the field while the band takes a break from playing at the football game.

Candace Hawthorne, a senior at GSU, who is one of the three Drum Majors, said that the band has been practicing endlessly to prepare for the Bayou Classic performance.

“We practice every weekday and sometimes on the weekends for several hours,” Hawthorne said. “We practice in the cold, rain or shine because we want to perfect our performance. We are known as ‘World-Famed’ for a reason and we have to uphold our band’s legacy.”

Hawthorne teaches the band new formations at a late night practice.

The World-Famed Tiger Marching Band is known as ‘World-Famed’ because they have performed in cities across the World, at multiple NFL Super Bowls, at four United States Presidential Inaugurations and for celebrities like Beyonce.

Overcoming tragedy

Last month the band suffered the unexpected loss of one of its integral members, Jamarcea Washington. Washington, who was a senior at GSU, played the drums and joined the band in 2017.

Washington had the chance to meet and perform for Beyonce while filming GSU’s Adidas commercial.

This would have been Washington’s last Bayou Classic performance. Hawthorne said that the band will honor Washington during the Bayou Classic performance by wearing a red ribbon.

“It really hurt losing him,” Hawthorne said.” I remember we had just practiced with him and the next day he was gone. We are wearing red ribbons in honor of him because he was the heartbeat of the band, he played the bass drum. We’re going to be wearing the ribbons over our hearts because he is still within us.”

Grambling women leading the way

Roebuck said that becoming the first female Band Director was a surreal moment for her because the position is typically dominated by men. Roebuck said that in this position she hopes to pave the way for women to come.

“Because it was a male dominated position, I knew one day it would happen I just didn’t know when,” Roebuck said. “I worked hard and dreamed big. I still have to pinch myself and say ‘is this real?’ I encourage women to never give up on their dreams. Don’t ever let anyone discourage you because a position is typically dominated by a man. Women can do it too.”

Hawthorne said that she is “very excited” to lead the band as this will be her first Bayou Classic as Drum Major.

“I’ve performed in the Bayou Classic every year but I’m usually in the back,” she said. “This will be my first time out in the front leading the band so it is a lot of pressure. It’s such an exciting moment when stepping on the field and seeing thousands of people cheering for us in the stands and all of the lights flashing.”

Hawthorne conducts the band as they play at one of the football games.

To see The Grambling State University World-Famed Tiger Marching Band perform click here.

How to Watch the 2021 Bayou Classic:

The Bayou Classic airs Saturday, November 27th at 5 PM E.T. on NBCSN.

Author’s note: Jasmine Franklin is an award-winning journalist, Chicago-native, and senior studying Mass Communication at Grambling State University. Franklin made history in 2019, becoming the youngest Editor in Chief to serve The Gramblinite newspaper, as just a sophomore.  She is passionate about storytelling and aspires to become a news anchor. You can follow her on Instagram @Jazzxnicole

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