The relationship between the marching bands at The University of Arizona and Grambling State University goes back a long ways.
1967 to be exact.
This was the year of what is now known as Super Bowl I. The Pride of Arizona and World Famed Tiger Band took the field in an act of solidarity.
This was a time in American history when racial tensions were high. Martin Luther King Jr. had made his first speech on the Vietnam War just eight months earlier. Texas Western had won the NCAA basketball National Championship in March of 1966 with the first all-African American starting lineup. The “March Against Fear” from Memphis to Jackson occurred in the summer of 1966. The Black Panther Party had just been recently founded.
Dr. Larry Pannell, the current Grambling State band director, was a senior in high school when the two bands took the field together in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as a message of peace in January 1967.
“That’s what recruited me to Grambling,” Pannell said of watching that moment unfold on his television. “I had offers to go everywhere but this school just came back from this thing they call the first Super Bowl.”
“I’m so delighted that I did (choose Grambling), never knowing that I’d be considered the head director of this program. Just going in as a freshman you never know.”
The Tiger Band arrived in Tucson late Thursday evening, and joined The Pride of Arizona’s rehearsal on Friday. In between working out the logistics of recreating the map set, Grambling’s band played a special song dedicated to the POA, and how music can bring the world together no matter how different people are.
“The most beautiful thing about Arizona, it first started with them,” Pannell explained. “And now we’re back again.”
“When you see a HBCU and a predominantly white institution, and they say that the musicianship, don’t care what it is, music is a universal language,” continued Pannell. “And having brotherly love and sisterly love here is so beautiful.”
“It just stands out and these two bands have such a rich history of doing this during some unrest and the Civil Rights Movement. We had had the problems in Watts. We had the brothers to hold up the hands with the Black Power gloves on in the Olympics, and we were able to come out there during a rough time in America, both of these bands, and play in the very first Super Bowl to try and let ‘em know ‘Hey, where there’s love, we’ll be there’ and we’re trying to bring salvation back.”
“Now 50 years later, the same two bands are doing the same thing simply because we have some unrest here now.”
With racial tensions back at the forefront of the public’s attention again, especially in a place like Louisiana, this trip to Tucson was a chance for Grambling’s band to escape that for just a brief period of time and just let the music do the talking, while also being able to show unity again as they did in Super Bowl I.
“I said how surreal now 50 years ago and we’re actually recreating the same pregame,” added Pannell about having Arizona on the schedule at this particular time in American history. “If you go back and look at what’s happening, our year book at home has the big United States that we formed then trying to let the world know ‘Hey, we America. We’re in this thing together’.”
“Now with all the unrest that’s going on now, we’re forming that same United States again, playing the National Anthem.”
“It’s just like deja vu.”
Friday was the first time Pannell had seen the map in person, and it was an emotional experience for him.
“Just chills,” he said of his reaction to seeing it. “You have to understand that 1967 yearbook at the university was dedicated to the band for that historical accomplishment. And when you open the book, from the front page to this page, they have both bands forming the United States.”
“It just brought chills that I’ll get the chance to get this in another yearbook 50 years later.”
The great thing about music is that it has the power to bring people from different backgrounds, cultures, upbringings, belief systems and so on together to make one powerful statement.
Now Grambling and Arizona have done that twice in two critical times in American history.