Tiger Marching Band to Play Inaugural Parade in Washington D.C.

January 18, 2013

By Justin Madden Grambling State University Media Bureau

Grambling State University’s World Famed Tiger Marching Band and students, faculty and  staff are busy preparing for the 57th U.S. presidential inauguration  as “goodwill ambassadors.”

“We  are ambassadors for the state of Louisiana, Grambling State University, the  town of Grambling and all the other HBCUs,” said Larry Pannell, who is leading  the band for a third presidential inauguration parade since he became band  director. ““It feels good the second time around.”

Grambling State’s band played during President Obama’s first inauguration parade in  January 2009, and the band is the only Historically Black College and University participating this time. The band is only one of two marching bands  returning for a second Obama inauguration; the other is the president’s Hawaii  high school.

“It  felt extremely good the first time to have a president of color and you’re  asked to perform,” added Pannell, who’s a GSU graduate, “but the second time  around is even better now that you’re the only HBCU.”

The  200 band members, two drum majors and band faculty and staff won’t be the only  ones representing Grambling State University. The band is busy practicing getting ready to pack four, 55-passenger  buses and an equipment truck for the 20-hour drive from Grambling to  Williamsburg, Va., where they will stay because they couldn’t get  accommodations any closer once they got the good news about the parade in late  December.

With a waiting list of nearly 50 students,  joining the band will be more than 100 university students, faculty and staff  in two more, 55-passenger buses, costing over $12,000 each. Students were  offered the chance to attend the inauguration for $150, including  transportation and two nights in a Williamsburg, Va., hotel, where the Favrot  Student Union Board has reserved 33 rooms. They will leave Saturday at 4 p.m.  The band leaves separately on Saturday.

Students  will be traveling in style as they go about the long journey to the East Coast.  “These are executive coaches. Our kids will be comfortable,” said Rusty Ponton,  dean of student activities. “They are very comfortable buses. They have Wi-Fi,  plug-ins for the cellphone, and for students to use their laptops.”

Ponton, commonly known as “Coach P,” anticipates having a greater experience this  second time due to a student getting lost for an hour back in 2009, which he  said was the scariest hour of his life. “We learned some lessons from then that  we will now bring forth this time,” said Ponton. “This year we will a buddy  system and set points where group leaders will check in.”

However, there are some worries heading into the 2013 Inauguration parade, since there  will be thousands of people in attendance. While patting his black and gold  sweatshirt, Ponton encourages students to wear GSU paraphernalia so it will be  easier to identify university spectators.

Classes  at the university started after the holiday and winter break on January 7, so  there hasn’t been much time to get ready. All of last week and all of this  week, including during a couple of cold, wintry days with freezing drizzle and  rain, the band has been practicing – indoors and outdoors.

A  former Tiger Marching Band member when he was a student at Grambling State,  Pannell is known as a demanding, strict, music-focused band director. He’s had band members practice — and exercising – more  than 20 hours each week.

“Practice has been very intense and challenging as far as weather conditions,” said drum  major Prince Gray Jr., a senior marketing major. “This experience itself will  help motivate the band to preserve and accept the challenge of this milestone  achievement.”

Gray  has been with the band for four years and played in the 2009 Inauguration  parade and he said that he’s most excited about the experience this second  time.

“What  I’m expecting the most is a mark in history that is about to be made amongst  HBCU bands,” he said. “When I think of the 2013 inaugural parade I can forever  say I led the World Famed Tiger Marching Band.”

Students,  faculty and staff have heard the inauguration parade warm-ups each afternoon  and evening as the band bundled up and marched along campus streets, often with  campus police escorting them with horns honking and lights.

It’s  not the same as being a movie spoiler – and Pannell freely shared the game plan  – so Washington, D.C. spectators can expect a musical change from the band’s  2009 inauguration performance of Stars and Stripes Forever.

While  sticking with traditional military marches such as Them Basses and Our Directors March, the band will  groove the crowd with the 1982 hit Early In The Morning by the Gap Band. Pannell got the idea came from the fiscal cliff negotiations when President Obama and other government  officials worked into the night and early morning hours to get a deal. He said  that he thinks the president will understand the message.

“I  know the president, having some soul in him , will understand that it’s The Gap  Band and that he will have to get up late at night and early in the morning to  deal with the economy and bipartisanship,” said Pannell.

Even  with honor of playing for the president comes at a cost. Trips like this one with the band are are not  paid with state funds. It will cost a minimum of $125,000. President Frank G.  Pogue established a specific band travel fund for alumni, friends and others  can donate whatever they can to help the band make history. The school is  continuing to request donations.

This is the third presidential inauguration parade for which Pannell has led the  band as director. The World Famed Marching Band also  played for the Inauguration Parade of George W. Bush in 2001. This trip is  emotional and personal.

A  few weeks before the 2009 performance, Pannell lost his 50-year-old wife to  lung cancer on Nov. 4, 2008, the same day President Obama was elected president  for his first term. Pannell recalled his ailing wife asking him about her  absentee ballot days before.

Referencing biblical text, Pannell recalled, “I gave up on God. I wrestled with him like  Jacob.” He cried to and from Washington D.C. in 2009.

This  2013 parade is more therapeutic. “This time I’m Job,” he said. “I’m going back  with the patience and as man knowing that God doesn’t make mistakes.”


Media Contact:

Will Sutton