HBCU bands gather for Honda Battle of the Bands

Clark Atlanta back in the field after a two-year absence from Georgia Dome event.

That’s how Prentice Scott sees it. He is head drum major for the Mighty Marching Panthers at Clark Atlanta University. Now a senior, Scott was a freshman in 2007 when Clark Atlanta last participated in the Honda Battle of the Bands. The Panthers return to the lineup of the annual show at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Hip-hop star Ludacris is scheduled to perform during the event. And a DJ will spin old- and new-school music in between band performances.

In addition to Clark Atlanta, the schools participating in the battle are Albany State University, Florida A&M University, North Carolina Central University, Prairie View A&M University, Southern University, Tuskegee University and Virginia State University.

“For a student, it’s the event of a lifetime,” said Scott, 21. “It’s an experience that you can’t get anywhere else because once you walk in, there are 70,000 people waiting for your school to perform. And that is probably the most people that the bands will ever see.”

Honda started the event in 2003. Each year, eight bands are chosen from a total of 45 HBCUs through a three-tier voting process. Supporters vote online. Having an established camaraderie, school band directors vote separately on which marching band, other than their own, demonstrates the best musicianship. And school presidents do the same, deciding on which band represents the greater community of HBCUs.

Honda gave the school band departments for each of the 45 HBCUs $1,000 each. And the final eight were awarded $20,000 in scholarship funds. The corporation has also paid their travel, hotel and food expenses.

“We missed [Clark Atlanta],” said Erika Braxton-White, communications administrator for corporate social responsibility at Honda. “And they really put forth a grassroots effort on campus to get voted back in. They are one of the smaller groups [with 120 band members]. You have FAMU, which has 450 strong, but [Clark] holds their own. They bring their A game.”

Indeed, Scott is getting his fellow marching band members primed.

“It’s a showcase, but I’m telling them every day to expect a competition. This is our chance to show what Clark Atlanta University is all about. That’s why they call it ‘Battle of the Bands,’ ” he said.

The bands inevitably mingle and play musical licks off each other as they line up in the tunnel to perform on the field, he added.

It all makes for a rich HBCU tradition that appeals to every age group, said Marc Burt, senior manager in the Office of Inclusion and Diversity for Honda. “The first year we only had seating in one half of the Georgia Dome, and we discovered that we were turning people away. Then we opened up the entire Dome and we sold it out.”

Scott says the Mighty Marching Panthers expect an electric atmosphere at the Dome. “There is a level of urgency to perform; butterflies, nervousness — all of that comes into play,” he said. “But we have practiced so much, we’re just excited to get out there.”

Event preview

Battle of the Bands

3 p.m. Doors open at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. $10-$12. Children under age 15 must be accompanied by an adult. Georgia Dome, One Georgia Dome Drive N.W., Atlanta. 404-223-9200, www.hondabattleofthe bands.com , www.ticket master.com .

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