Honda Battle of the Bands has been celebrating HBCU marching bands for 15 years

Bethune-Cookman University's Marching Wildcats have performed at Honda Battle of the Bands for more than a decade. Photo courtesy of Honda

Credit: Jewel Wicker

Credit: Jewel Wicker

For Shomari Willis and his fellow Benedict College band mates, their Honda Battle of the Bands performance doesn’t begin when they take the field at the Georgia Dome. It begins the minute they arrive in Atlanta and step off the bus.

“You never know who will be watching,” he says.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to visit the Georgia Dome to watch as marching bands from historically black colleges and universities put their showmanship on display.

The Honda Battle of the Bands is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year with the theme "Celebrate the History, Create the Future."

Photo courtesy of Honda

Credit: Jewel Wicker

Credit: Jewel Wicker

Eight bands will prance onto the field with the hopes of entertaining and inspiring on Jan. 28. R&B singer NeYo will perform during the showcase.

Bethune-Cookman University’s Marching Wildcats have been a part of that history for over a decade.

“In sports you have Super Bowls for football, the National Championship for Basketball and March Madness for College Basketball. For HBCU bands that’s what Honda is to us,” Donovan V. Wells, band director, said.

The Bethune-Cookman alumnus recalls how universities originally received a $10,000 grant for participating in the invitational showcase. Now, the eight colleges receive a $20,000 grant to support their program.

Alexandra Warnier, Honda’s manager of corporate social responsibility, said the company has donated more than $2 million to HBCUs through the Atlanta-based event.

Warnier said she remembers attending the first Honda Battle of the Bands and has enjoyed watching the event transform into a “destination for the bands and for the fans.”

Before attending Benedict College, Willis went to high school at Carver School of the Arts.

One of his first looks into the world of college marching bands came from attending Honda Battle of the Bands as a spectator.

“It really made me want to go to college and be a part of the band so I can experience the same thing,” he said.

Benedict College is, in some ways, a part of the event’s future. Participating for the first time, Willis said there is a desire for the band to prove they deserve the spotlight just as much as veteran bands such as Bethune-Cookman University do. In fact, they think they deserve it more.

“After our performance you’re not going to want to see any other band,” Willis said.

Photo courtesy of Honda

Credit: Jewel Wicker

Credit: Jewel Wicker

While there is no official winner at the event, the friendly competition has been a part of its culture since inception.

Still, in some ways, the eight bands that have been selected for the event through a process that includes voting, have already won.

“It’s a platform where you can bring you’re A game and everybody a can get an A,” Wells said. “When you go to the Super Bowl there’s a winner and a loser.”

3 p.m. Jan. 28. $10-$21. Georgia Dome, 1 Georgia Dome Dr, Atlanta.

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