For nearly two years, the sound of Florida A&M’s celebrated band, the Marching 100, was utterly silent. It fell hushed after the death of a drum major in a hazing incident that not only led to the suspension of the band, but also placed a cloud over the entire school.
In the midst of a tragedy that drew national attention, the school’s president resigned and the music that played such a pivotal role in the social atmosphere of the historically African-American college was not to be heard.
But this past weekend, the Marching 100 returned to the football field as fans from far and wide returned to Tallahassee to welcome the musicians back to the campus in the halftime of Florida A&M’s season-opening game against Mississippi Valley State University.
“There was a level of excitement and a lot of pride and joy that was restored to the campus,” said Anthony Siders, who serves as president of the Student Government Association at FAMU, speaking with BET.com.
“The moment the band returned, you could hear the roar of the crowd,” Siders said. “I got goose bumps and I know I wasn’t the only one who did.”
Siders said that many of the students and campus community remained in prayer for the family of Robert Champion, the drum major who collapsed and died following a hazing ritual on a bus parked at an Orlando hotel in November 2011.
“From our perspective, he is still a member of the band,” said Siders, a senior from West Palm Beach, Florida, majoring in political science.
The death of Champion had sobering implications for the school, an institution where the band was a celebrated and historic presence. By the time Champion’s death received national headlines, 15 former band members were charged with manslaughter and felony hazing in the drum major’s death.
Of those, seven former band members accepted pleas that called for probation and community service oriented sentences. One student pleaded guilty but has not as yet been sentenced. The others are awaiting the trial.
The death of Champion took a toll on the school, with the resignation of the school’s president and the resignation of the school’s longtime band director.
But Siders and others contend that the sound of the band rehearsing in the afternoon hours on the campus has restored a good deal of the traditional atmosphere of FAMU.
“There was a dark cloud that gathered around FAMU that represented a level of depression for many,” the student body president said. “Although FAMU is known for its academic excellence, the band played a prominent role in our social environment. To hear them and see them again is just wonderful.”
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(Photo: AP Photo/John Raoux)