Rose Bowl parade ‘magical,’ ‘amazing’ for Martin Luther King High band

It took lots of practice to get Lithonia’s Martin Luther King High School band to California for the 128th Rose parade on Jan. 2, but it was worth it, director Travis W. Kimber said Friday morning.

“We were treated like rock stars everywhere we went, from the time we landed in California to the time we left,” he said.

The Kings of Halftime, as they're called, entertained along the parade route with high-energy performances to Bill Withers' "Lovely Day," and Michael Jackson's "Thriller," among other hits. Kimber said he began pulling information together in 2014 for the parade's application process.

About 200 people took the cross-country trip, Kimber said, including 180 band members and school personnel and parents acting as chaperones from Dec. 29 to Jan. 3. Trips like this are about more than the performance, said Kimber, who has taken the school’s band to Johannesburg, South Africa, for the 2006 Field Band Association’s South African National Championships and Dallas for the 2008 Cotton Bowl.

“It’s worth it when students can get on a plane for the first time, get out of the four walls of the community if you will,” he said. “It’s the number one reason we put ourselves out there for this performance. You know it’s going to be a lot of hard work, giving up your Christmas break, putting a lot of sweat equity into this thing.”

Band member and MLK senior Meagan Harrison said the experience or performing for so many people, including those watching the parade on television, was surreal.

“We’d talked about going on the trip, but actually being there ... it started getting real,” she said. “When we actually started the performance, that’s when my heart started beating fast. You have everybody watching at home, everybody watching (in person).”

Principal Ennis Harvey said emails continue to come in about the band’s performance -- and with good reason.

“I think the band was representing the state of Georgia in terms of what public school education should be about,” he said. “And it provided our students with experiences that will be with them forever.”

Kimber said last year after the band was selected for the parade that it would take about a half million dollars to get his group to California. He said fundraising continues even with the band now back from the trip.

“A trip like this can really deplete your reserves for a program,” he said.

Since its start in 2001, more than $50 million in college music scholarships have been received by students participating in the Martin Luther King High band.