TSU's 'Aristocrat of Bands' Makes History Again and Again... and Again

TSU's 'Aristocrat of Bands' Makes History Again and Again... and Again

Since the program's inception in 1946, the Aristocrat of Bands has blazed the trail not only for HBCU bands, but marching bands across the world.

Sep 29, 2022 by Natalie Shelton
TSU's 'Aristocrat of Bands' Makes History Again and Again... and Again

Tennessee State University's marching band - the Aristocrat of Bands - is no stranger to making history. Since the program's inception in 1946, Aristocrat of Bands has blazed the trail not only for HBCU bands but marching bands across the country (and the world).

Historical Accolades

In addition to putting on crowd-pleasing halftime performances for Tennessee State University's football team, the AOB regularly puts itself in the spotlight in diverse ways.

The AOB has performed at the White House on multiple occasions, including at John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961 and most recently in September of 2016, where they performed on the South Lawn of the White House during a reception in honor of the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. During that trip, they met former President Barack Obama and took photos on the White House Steps. 

In 1955, the AOB was the first HBCU band in history to ever appear on television, thanks to their halftime performance at the Chicago Bears vs Los Angeles Rams NFL game. To this day, their ties to pro football teams run deep. In 2002, the AOB was named the official band of the Tennessee Titans and continues to play during halftime for the team, as recently as this past weekend.

The AOB has recently been invited to perform in the 2022 Rose Parade and has historically traveled and performed across the world - including in Asia, Africa, North America, and Europe. And given their recent trajectory, there are sure to be additional stops on their tour around the world. 

Modern Day Trailblazers

The latest way the AOB has been making headlines? Recording a gospel album with the help of acclaimed gospel artist Sir The Baptist. AOB assistant director Larry Jenkins teamed up with Sir to fully record, produce, and release 'The Urban Hymnal' which is a first not only for HBCUs but college marching bands in general. 

The ten-song album was released earlier this month and features a mix of classic TSU anthems in addition to jazzy AOB renditions of gospel classics. According to an NPR interview about 'The Urban Hymnal,' Sir The Baptist estimates that when all is said and done, as many as a thousand people helped make the album come to life. 

From the very beginning of the album, it's apparent how much love and care went into the production. Not only will 'The Urban Hymnal' have you tapping your foot during songs like 'Dance Revival' and 'Purpose,' but it'll also give you an appreciation for the young students who spent countless hours practicing and recording the songs that appear on the album on top of their usual student responsibilities. It can be assumed that the whole process truly was a labor of love, and that love can be felt in every moment of the album.

'The Urban Hymnal' can be streamed wherever you get your music - Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and more. 

"The reason why that's important," Jenkins echoes, "is because marching band is not a monolithic thing. We hear 'HBCU marching band,' [and that] sometimes is presented as one thing ... but there are levels to it. We get to showcase different elements of what we offer in our band. There are times when the woodwinds are getting more of the feature and you're hearing the flutes and you're hearing the clarinets do a part that you might not be able to hear if it's 40 trumpets blaring. We're making sure you catch all aspects that we have to offer musically." - Larry Jenkins, assistant director of AOB in an interview with NPR

If we can learn anything from the Aristocrat of Bands, it's that the sky isn't the limit - the limit is reached when you stop dreaming and pushing yourself forward.

About Tennessee State University's Aristocrat of Bands - The Aristocrat of Bands is a high-stepping, show-style marching band from the historically Black university, Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee. The band's name is commonly abbreviated to the moniker, "AOB."

The band is known for playing a variety of music such as jazz, classical, contemporary, and popular pieces, and is heralded for its distinct musical style using clean articulation, expressive dynamics, balance, and technical ability.