During 1950’s and 1960’s, every school south of the Mason/Dixon Line dreamed of receiving an invitation to march in New Orleans Mardi Gras parades and compete for the Best of the Bands award and accompanying trophy that Mardi Gras officials presented each year.
While in high school, my brother was the drum major and assistant band director of his school’s marching band and, he, along with almost every high school band member in the South, wanted to snatch this award from the Central High, the school whose band had won the award, for as long as any of us could remember.
Central was a recently integrated, formerly black, school that had yet to allow any white kids into its marching band. Officials at Central felt that black kids had more rhythm than the white kids and as long as Central’s band remained un-integrated, its winning streak would continue.
My brother worked hard and devoted hours to preparing to his band to win this award. He created unique jazz arrangements, choreographed intricate marching routines and drilled his band until they were able to do the routines almost in their sleep.
For three years my brother’s band marched in the Mardi Gras parades without being able to best Central. Year four – my brother’s senior year, it appeared that all his hard work would pay off. The crowd lining the streets along the parade route greeted his band with cheers and wild applause each time they marched by.
On the final day of Mardi Gras, my six foot brother took his place in front of the band. His drum major hat added a foot of height. He was reed thin, double jointed, and blessed with a natural grace and sense of rhythm that made his strutting appear effortless. When his band got within sight of the judges reviewing stand, he halted them for a short pep talk: “OK, y’all lets hit that New Orleans lick real hard and show the judges what we can do.” The band struck up When the Saints Go Marching In. My brother pranced, high stepped, and strutted like he had never done before in his life. He led, dared, prodded and inspired his band to give a spectacular performance.
The crowd went wild and the judges came to their feet in a standing ovation. He told me later that he heard a red neck in the crowd say, “Look at that there white boy go. I’m tellin’ y’all he is some kinda’ good at struttin’.”
As my brother was leaving the judges’ stand with the coveted trophy, he turned and held it over his head. A local disk jockey asked him to describe his feelings, he grinned and replied: “It’s a great day to be a skinny, double jointed, high steppin’ white boy who is backed up by the Best Band in the South.”
So, what is the lesson in this? Strut it if you got it ‘cause color don’t matter. God gives each of us different talents and it is up to us to use them.
Betty Freeman Haines, an author and award winning columnist, lives in Mesquite, NV. Her books/e-books, Reluctant Hero and Grieving Sucks or Does It, can be ordered from amazon.com. Share your thoughts and opinions with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.