Like everything else associated with Memphis’ traditional inner-city neighborhoods, the city’s marching band culture has been adversely affected by the depopulation of these areas and their schools, but something of a marching band culture still remains in certain schools. Oakhaven High School is a band program that has been showing some success in recent years, and in November they sponsored a Band Showdown, featuring competition between the bands and drumlines from Central High School, Whitehaven High School (always Memphis’ largest high school band), Mitchell High School and Oakhaven High School, as well as an exhibition appearance by the band from Talladega College in Alabama. The event was fairly well attended, and all of the bands made a decent impression, although my opinion was that Whitehaven was clearly the winner.
Memphis Football: Whitehaven at Melrose in the Mound
Despite Memphis’ well-deserved basketball reputation, Memphis is also traditionally a strong football town, particularly at the prep level. People turn out to see both the ball game, and also the battle between the bands and drumlins as well, and certain stadiums are historic locations for Memphis Black high school football, such as Booker T. Washington Stadium in South Memphis or Melrose Stadium in the center of Orange Mound. On Friday, September 19, 2014, I went out to the latter stadium to see the game between Whitehaven High School and the Melrose High School Golden Wildcats. Both schools brought their marching bands to the game, which isn’t always the case in Memphis these days, but Melrose seems to have declined in numbers in recent years, and its band, though it sounded good, was far smaller than I remembered in the past. Whitehaven, on the other hand, is one of the city’s premier high schools, academically, athletically and musically. Its band marches more than 100 members, and looks and sounds better than many colleges. The football game was a runaway for Whitehaven, but the band battle was more evenly matched, although I would have to give Whitehaven the advantage there too. Both bands pleased the crowd by playing a number of current hits, including Memphian Snootie Wild’s “Yayo”.
The Whitehaven Sounds of Perfection against the Central Sound of Midtown at Crump
Friday night I headed down to Melrose to see the Melrose and Kirby game, but I discovered when I got there that Kirby High School had not brought their band to the game, and since I had already seen Melrose this year, I headed on to Crump Stadium to see the Central/Whitehaven game. Both of these schools have relatively large bands this year, and both were in full battle mode all night. Central’s band is known as the Sound of Midtown, and is a young program that seems to be on the right track. Whitehaven, known as the Sounds of Perfection, is an incredibly-large high school band that could easily rival many colleges, and is one of the best high-school bands in the country. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the tense, close football game, there was no “fifth quarter” afterwards, with Whitehaven’s band leaving the stadium immediately after time had run out.
Whitehaven High School Band at the Whitehaven Christmas Parade
Whitehaven vs. Fairley at JP Freeman, 2012
Whitehaven vs. Fairley at J.P. Freeman, Memphis, 2012
Whitehaven Band Marching into Melrose Stadium, 2011
Melrose Homecoming 2011 in Orange Mound, Memphis
Toward the end of the third quarter of the Melrose High School homecoming game, I realized that I needed to head on out of town if I wanted to get to Pine Bluff, Arkansas by 5 PM for the UAPB/Southern game, so I walked back to my car and rode out.
Melrose Homecoming vs. Whitehaven in Orange Mound, 2011
Melrose High School had their homecoming game against Whitehaven on Saturday in Orange Mound, and not only was the weather perfect for football, but the atmosphere was like a college game, with both sides of the stadium packed, and two of the best high school marching bands in the stands. Across the street at the Orange Mound Community Center, the Melrose Class of 1981 was having a tailgate/picnic with a DJ, and when the bands weren’t playing, the sounds of Frankie Beverly and Maze and Willie Hutch drifted across the street along with the smells of barbecue. A perfect football day, except that Melrose was down 49 to nothing at the half.