On the hills of Florida A&M University, located in the heart of the Foster-Tanner Music Building, sits a room that was once filled with the rhythmic and melodic sounds of the Marching “100.”
FAMU’s famed band performed at countless Super Bowl games and Grammy Awards shows, received national and international accolades for its talent and even performed for President Barack Obama. Now, it is silent.
President James H. Ammons suspended the band late last semester following the Nov. 19 death of drum major Robert Champion, which authorities linked to hazing. Things have changed for FAMU’s music program including a temporary, new chair of music.
“Our main focus is the students,” said Valencia Matthews, the assistant dean for the College of Arts and Sciences and recent appointee as interim music department chair. “As we move forward, we need to focus on making sure that we do what we came here to do, which is to focus on students’ matriculation and well being.”
As a result of the hazing incident, which garnered both national and international attention, many members of the band have walked away. Other members are experiencing life firsthand without the “100.”
A former member of the band, who wished to remain anonymous in fear of retaliation, said, “When you’re used to being on such a structured schedule every single day, and then all of a sudden, you’re forced to return to ‘normal life,’ it can be very challenging to get back in the swing of things. My life now pretty much consists of just work and school.”
With approximately 420 people in the band, nearly all are on music scholarships that remain intact, regardless of the suspension.
“Of course we’re still on scholarship,” the former band member said. “You can’t revoke all of our money based on the negligence and ignorance of a couple of people. We are still going to school and trying to make good grades like the rest of the student population. Why should we have to suffer because of a few bad apples?”
The band has become a thriving enterprise for FAMU, generating millions of dollars for the school. Tax documents from the Marching “100” Alumni Band Association show that in the last five years, the association has garnered over $150,000 for the band to cover costs of tuition, book vouchers and travel expenses.
The former band member believes the suspension is only a temporary response and that they will be performing by fall.
“We make too much money for this school for them to do away with us,” he said. “We are much more than the Classics and the various football games. We are a legitimate brand. We bring in more money for this school than any other entity on this campus. We are internationally known and we will play again–soon.”
Though seemingly affected by the consequences of others, other former band members continue to practice everyday — playing for academics rather than enjoyment.