Over time, homecoming at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) offers a convergence of Black culture in the United States. The annual event is a safe space for current students, alumni and fans of these institutions to celebrate with one other.
At several HBCUs, what started off as a football game with extra importance has now become a multi-day cultural event that includes a plethora of different cuisines and activities for all attendees to take part in.
And arguably the most important aspect of HBCU homecomings is the music. Bands with hundreds of performers blast brass-heavy arrangements with a flair fans have to come to know and love.
The show band style — powerful arrangements mixed with majorette choreography — creates a unique atmosphere, and serves as the inspiration for Columbus Saints’ 2023 program, “Homecoming.”
“We’ve decided to move a little bit more toward the independent HBCU band and show band space recently, so we want to represent some of that,” Columbus Saints executive director Le Ron Carlton said.
The style and flair of show bands has been a consistent source of inspiration for the Ohio-based corps since its inception 20 years ago. Founder and CEO Marshall Cheatham was initially inspired by the 2002 film, “Drumline,” which has become one of the most prominent mainstream representations of HBCU band culture.
One year later, Cheatham created the Saints Drumline, designed to replicate the style of HBCU percussion. 20 years since then, the corps is honoring the same roots that got them to this stage.
The show, however, is not just about paying homage to the extensive lineages of HBCU show bands. It’s also about celebrating the diversity the marching arts can provide.
“We play in front of a variety of audiences, so we really just want to make sure there’s something for everyone,” Carlton said.
With the idea of diversity, equity and inclusion in mind, the musical design of the show came together. The selections for 2023 — which includes “Party” by Beyoncé — reflect the corps’ initiative to create a party-like atmosphere everyone can enjoy.
“We tried to pick a variety of songs that covered different time periods and are not rooted in the past or in one particular style,” program coordinator Evan Sasowsky said.
The party kicks off with its first movement, “Take On Me” by A-Ha.
The corps then transitions to its second movement, an arrangement of “Party” which Beyoncé performed at her 2018 Coachella performance.
Her use of the HBCU band style during her stay at Coachella inspired much of what the corps portrays during this movement. The use of Beyoncé’s song is yet another example of how the Columbus corps plans on honoring the culture of HBCU bands.
“This is also one song that at HBCUs, has a huge history of being a popular song for bands to use as a stand tune,” Sasowsky said.
No homecoming celebration would be complete without the crowning of the homecoming king and queen, and that’s what the corps does in its third movement. This section features “Best Part” by Daniel Caesar and H.E.R. From there, Saints’ homecoming celebration concludes with “Thnks fr th Mmrs” by Fall Out Boy.
Finding a way to intertwine these two styles may seem like a challenging task. But, the corps staff hopes their use of different aspects of traditional drum corps — like sling drums and high stepping — make the show feel more comfortable for a wide array of audiences.
“If you’re a drum corps fan, it’s like “Oh, that’s different, that’s cool,” Carlton said. “You’ll know when that happens because it’s a stark jump. It’s very evident that this is some kind of party.”
Columbus Saints will perform “Homecoming” as part of the 2023 Drum Corps Associates World Championships, competing in ‘A’ Class. The all-age circuit’s finale event is scheduled for September 1-4 in Rochester, New York.