Second annual HBCU Battle of the Bands stands out as ‘more than a performance’

Locals gather at Restoration Plaza in Bed-Stuy for the second annual HBCU Battle of the Bands on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Marching bands, DJs, members of Divine 9 fraternities and sororities, and more descended upon Central Brooklyn’s Restoration Plaza on Sept. 26 to showcase their talents and celebrate their culture at the second annual HBCU Battle of the Bands.

“In the [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] world, band battles are a cultural event where people from past and present and alumni all come together. This event was kind of that for us,” said Ty Brown, founder and director of Brooklyn United Drumline.

Brooklyn Union Drumline was one of dozens of participating groups from as far as Alabama, Louisiana and as close as right here in New York City. The event, Brown said, was a chance to “come together” with other borough drum lines and band programs to “show off what our kids work on.”

Phi Beta Sigma fraternity members perform at Restoration Plaza.Photo by Caroline Ourso

But, Brown and other band leaders hope their members will learn more than just the art of performance.

“From young to old we teach them confidence,” Brown told Brooklyn Paper. “We teach them that the confidence that they display in marching band and in show is the same confidence that they’re gonna do in school … our young people in Brooklyn United go to school with a confidence that, ‘I can learn,’ ‘I can be the best.'”

As a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, events like this are vital to Bedford-Stuyvesant Councilmember Robert Cornegy, who served as the face-off’s main sponsor.

“There’s a great relationship with all these HBCUs. It’s a very important part of [Cornegy’s] identity,” said the pol’s spokesperson, Raul Rothblatt. “It’s a very strong network.”

Sorority members pose with the event’s main sponsor, Councilmember Robert Cornegy.Photo by Caroline Ourso

“The time for silence is over,” Cornegy said ahead of the event. “It is time for a joyful noise. If you haven’t gone to an HBCU, then you have not experienced the energy of being on the Yard. Since Brooklyn is such a huge African-American hub, it’s time to bring the Yard here.”

Jada John, executive director of the Big Apple Leadership Academy for the Arts, uses Empire Marching Elite — a community-based marching band — to help students advance in their academic career. 

“Our goal with that band is to not only introduce and sort of normalize show style marching bands in New York City but to also provide opportunities for young people to train and pursue marching band scholarships to different HBCUs,” said John.

Sorority members at the second annual HBCU Battle of the Bands at Restoration Plaza.Photo by Caroline Ourso

Brown appreciates that members of the community were able to see the plethora of music programs available to Brooklyn residents live and in action Saturday afternoon.

“It’s one thing to talk about it and it’s another thing to see and experience it,” he said.