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Music

Usher’s Super Bowl Halftime Show: a celebration of HBCU Culture and Kappa Alpha Psi

todayFebruary 12, 2024 28 5

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Jackson State Marching Band aka Sonic Boom of The South

Did you catch the halftime show at yesterday’s Super Bowl? If you did, you were treated to a high-energy spectacle headlined by Usher, with a special appearance that everyone is talking about. Two members of Kappa Alpha Psi, the second-oldest historically Black fraternity in the world, joined Usher on stage, strolling with canes and shimmying alongside the pop star. 

Adding to the celebration of HBCU culture, the Jackson State University’s Sonic Boom of the South Marching Band also performed, accompanying Usher with their dynamic sound and high-stepping style, showcasing the rich tradition and excellence of HBCU marching bands on one of the world’s biggest stages.  Not to mention, Jackson State is home to our fellow Urban Alternative station, The Sipp.

As a proud graduate of Howard University, this moment was a clear nod to the commercial growth and mainstream exposure of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and their culture, particularly since Beyoncé’s Coachella 2018 performance.

Kappa Alpha Psi and Jackson State Marching Band

Kappa Alpha Psi, colloquially known as the Nupes, was founded in 1911 at Indiana University Bloomington. The fraternity has a long history of advocating for social justice and civil rights, and its members have been influential in the fight for racial equality.

HBCU marching bands, like the one at Jackson State University, are an integral part of the HBCU experience. Known for their high-energy performances, intricate dance routines, and musical excellence, these bands often serve as ambassadors for their institutions, showcasing the vibrant culture and talent that HBCUs cultivate.

Kappa Alpha Psi and Social Justice

Founded on January 5, 1911, at Indiana University Bloomington, Kappa Alpha Psi was born out of a need for a support system for African American men facing racial prejudice. The fraternity’s early years were marked by a commitment to racial uplift and civil rights, with members actively engaging in social justice work. In the 1940s, the fraternity’s agenda included fighting for the placement of a black member on the federal Civil Service Commission and supporting anti-poll tax legislation. The fraternity’s founders, Elder Watson Diggs and Byron K. Armstrong were influenced by their experiences at Howard University and the racial ostracism they faced upon transferring to Indiana University. This led them to create an organization providing a sense of brotherhood and support for African American men in the face of adversity

The Divine Nine and HBCU Marching Bands

Kappa Alpha Psi is part of the Divine Nine, the nine historically Black Greek-letter organizations that comprise the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). These organizations have played pivotal roles in the Civil Rights movement and continue to be influential in the fight for racial equality and social justice. HBCU marching bands, like the one at Jackson State University, are an integral part of the HBCU experience. These bands are known for their high-energy performances, intricate dance routines, and musical excellence. They often serve as ambassadors for their institutions, showcasing the vibrant culture and talent that HBCUs cultivate.

The Sonic Boom of the South

Jackson State University’s marching band, the Sonic Boom of the South, is a prime example of the excellence in HBCU marching bands. Known for their precise drills and explosive sound, the Sonic Boom has a rich history that reflects the broader tradition of HBCU bands as centers of innovation, performance, and Black cultural expression.

With a rich history that dates back to the 1940s, the band was dubbed “The Sonic Boom of the South” in 1971 by its students, and in 1974, the band’s theme, “Get Ready,” an old Motown favorite, was selected. Three years later, the “Tiger Run-On” was perfected, a fast, eye-catching shuffle that blends an adagio step with an up-tempo shuffle, then back to adagio—a “Sonic Boom” trademark that brings fans to their feet during halftime performances. The band has performed at many halftime appearances for the Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, and Cincinnati Bengals, as well as a television special for Motown’s 30th Anniversary and the 34th NAACP Image Awards, with a special guest performance by “Cedric the Entertainer.”

The band was featured on ABC’s Good Morning America during JSU’s homecoming week and performed at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration Parade. The band marches with a high step, raising the knees to 90° and pointing the toes downwards. This military-style march is distinct from that employed by high school bands who march with a “corps step”, keeping feet close to the ground and landing heel first, rolling forward onto the toes.

The band has faced challenges over the years, including budget constraints that have reduced its size from 350 musicians to around 210. Despite these challenges, the band has continued to excel, becoming the first and only collegiate marching band chosen to be featured by Great Big Story in 2018.

The band’s performance at yesterday’s Super Bowl halftime show, alongside Usher and members of Kappa Alpha Psi, was a significant moment that highlighted the cultural significance of HBCUs and their marching bands. The band brought the dynamic energy and musical excellence they are known for, further cementing their place in mainstream culture.

Legacy and Impact

The legacy of Kappa Alpha Psi and the HBCU marching bands extends beyond their respective campuses. They have influenced American culture and have been at the forefront of social change. The Nupes, with their commitment to “Achievement in Every Field of Human Endeavor,” and the HBCU marching bands, with their dynamic performances, both embody the resilience and creativity of the African American community

The Super Bowl Performance

Usher’s halftime show was a roller-skating, guest-filled spectacle that included a full HBCU marching band, Cirque du Soleil acrobats, dancers with military-precision choreography, and roller skaters. The performance was a celebration of Usher’s career, featuring a medley of his biggest hits, including “Caught Up,” “U Don’t Have to Call,” “Nice & Slow,” “Burn,” and “U Got It Bad”

The inclusion of members of Kappa Alpha Psi and the HBCU marching band was a significant moment that highlighted the cultural significance of these institutions. The Nupes, with their distinctive strolling and shimmying, added a unique element to the performance. At the same time, the HBCU marching band brought the dynamic energy and musical excellence they are known for. It was celebration of Black culture.

Written by: Tarik Moody

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