Inside Look at the Legendary Grambling State Marching Band

Historic black band has danced to the beat since 1926.

ByABC News via GMA logo
January 2, 2010, 3:06 AM

GRAMBLING, La., Jan. 2, 2010— -- It is the day before a big game at Grambling State University, and the 200 members of the Tiger Marching Band are playing their way through campus, heading to a parking lot next to the football stadium. Days of pouring rain have left the field in Grambing, La., too wet for practice, but with only one rehearsal left before one of their biggest shows of the year, the marching Tigers can't be stopped.

In fact, not stopping is what makes this band famous.

"Our field shows are nonstop," said LaBradford Scroggins, the band's head drum major. "That's a Grambling tradition. Once you hit the field, you don't stop moving. You just keep on dancing."

Assistant band director Edwin Thomas, who was himself head drum major when he attended Grambling 35 years ago, said, "Other bands have said, 'It's hard. We've tried it. How do you guys dance and play at the same time?' Well, that's our niche. And that is what we think makes the Grambling band unique from other bands."

Grambling's band has been dancing to the beat since 1926, when the university's president decided to start a show band with 26 instruments purchased from Sears, Roebuck and Co. A quarter-century later, then-band director Conrad Hutchinson set out to transform the marching Tigers into "the best band in the land."

"What he ended up doing was getting some of the popular tunes off the radio and putting them out on the field, and then he said, 'Let me add some popular dance steps to them,'" said Larry Pannell, Grambling's current band director.

The result was a hit. Over the next 50 years, the Grambling marching band toured the country and even overseas. They made multiple trips to Japan and have played at Super Bowls, including the half-time show at the first Super Bowl in 1967.

"Everywhere we went, half-time concession stands would suffer," Thomas said. "People would not leave the stands when they knew the Grambling band was performing."