Band making history, again

“Goodwill Ambassadors” is what band Director Dr. Larry J. Pannell called the Grambling State University World Famed Tiger Marching Band, as they prepare for the 57th Presidential Inauguration. 

Scheduled as the only Historically Black College and University to perform on Monday, Pannell says that the band is representing multiple entities. 

“We are ambassadors for the state of Louisiana, Grambling State University, the town of Grambling and all the other HBCUs,” said Pannell

This is the second time the World Famed Marching Band has been asked to play for President Barack Obama. 

“It feels good the second time around,” said Pannell. “It felt extremely good the first time to have a president of color and you’re asked to perform, but the second time around is even better now that you’re the only HBCU.” 

Spectators can expect a musical change from their 2009 inauguration performance of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” 

While sticking with traditional military marches such as, “Them Basses” and “Our Directors March,” the band will groove the crowd with the 1982 hit “Early In The Morning” by The Gap Band.  Pannell says the idea came from the fiscal cliff fiasco, when government officials worked into the late hours of the night.  He added that he hopes the president will understand the message of the song.

“I know the president, having some soul in him, will understand that it’s The Gap Band and that he will have to get up late at night and early in the morning to deal with the economy and bipartisanship,” said Pannell

Usually marching with over 250 students, the band will leave Saturday, Jan. 19 at 9 a.m. and take the 24-hour drive from Grambling to Washington D.C.  with four 55-passenger tour buses carrying 200 band members, two drum majors and two band directors. 

Joining the band will be over 100 GSU students in a two spectator bus. Students were offered the chance to attend the Inauguration for $150 that included transportation and a two-night hotel stay. They will leave Saturday at 4 p.m.

Grambling’s band is one of only two returning for the Inaugural Parade. The other is Hawaii’s Punahou School, where Obama attended from 1971 to 1979.

The honor of playing for the president comes at a cost.  Trips that are not university based are not allowed to be paid through state or university funds. Pannell says the trip will cost over $100,000 and university officials garnered the funds through fundraising. 

In preparations for the performance, Pannell has had band members practicing outside and exercising since Jan. 7, rehearsing over 20 hours a week for the parade. 

“Practice has been very intense and challenging as far as weather conditions,” said drum major Prince Gray Jr., a senior marketing major. “This experience itself will help motivate the band to preserve and accept the challenge of this milestone achievement.”

Gray has been with the band for four years and played in the 2009 Inauguration Parade he says that he’s most excited about the experience the second time. 

“What I’m expecting the most is a mark in history that is about to be made amongst HBCU bands. When I think of the 2013 Inaugural Parade I can forever say I led the World Famed Tiger Marching Band,” said Grey. 

On the heels of the parade, Pannell says that this year’s Inauguration is a personal and emotional feat for him. 

Just months before the 2009 performance, Pannell lost his wife on Nov. 4, 2008 due to lung cancer.  This was the same day President Obama was elected and he recalls his ailing wife asking him about her absentee ballot. 

He referenced biblical text during his healing process. “I gave up on God. I wrestled with him like Jacob,” said Pannell.  He remembers crying to and from Washington D.C. back then. 

However, this time is much different. This parade is much more therapeutic. “This time I’m Job. I’m going back with the patience and as man knowing that God doesn’t make mistakes,” added Pannell