An Alabama State drum major
Marching bands have been a critical part of Donshon Wilson's life dating back to high school and as the founder of Music Through the Streets, the East Cleveland native is continuing to cultivate the culture here for others by showcasing high-energy performances from HBCUs and local and national high school bands in the annual Battle of the Bands event, which takes place this Friday and Saturday.
Wilson, who attended Central State University where he was part of the Invincible Marauder Band, returned to East Cleveland as a substitute teacher in 1997 and began helping out with the Shaw High School's Mighty Marching Cardinal Band's percussion section. Three years later he was the band director and created Music Through the Streets because he saw a chance to show students how their musical ability could open up opportunities for higher education, and how marching band culture could benefit them more generally.
“[The program] allows [students] to express themselves,” Wilson said. “It [also] helps them learn so many things, not just music but how to be productive citizens.”
HBCU culture, he said, embraces each student individually, especially those from the inner city, and is a healthy environment for students who are leaving home for the first time.
Wilson, now the Director of Student Wellness and Parent Engagement at Warrensville Heights High School and the school's band director, believes wholly in the program's mission and the ability of band to change lives, something he learned in college.
Dr. James Oliver, now the director of bands at Alabama State University, led the Central State University Marching Marauder's during Wilson's time there.
Oliver says HBCU marching bands bring people together from many different walks of life, giving students a second family.
“Every weekend there’s camaraderie, it means so much for us to come together and enjoy ourselves,” he said. “The HBCU bands are important because when there’s not a band at that half time, it’s a totally different feeling."
And separate from the game, the band programs are there to help students succeed off the field. "We’re here to keep [the students] going, showing them and telling them that they can do it," he said.
He's proud of what Wilson's accomplished but when he brings his squad to Cleveland this week, he intends on showing him "who [he] got it from."
"We're going to march in and do what we always do," he said. "The fireworks are coming!"
Cleveland native Travis Beane is the current band director for Trotwood-Madison High School’s Marching Musical Machine of the Midwest (TM4) from Dayton, Ohio. He’s starting his second year as director at the high school, which is one of eight squads that will compete for the championship at the Battle of the Bands.
“Music Through the Streets has to be the largest show-style competition in the midwest,” he said.
Beane wants to continue to introduce his students to more opportunities to perform and travel before they go off to college.
“It means the world to [students], if we expose them to the culture…and a lot of these students have not made it outside of Dayton,” Beane said. “[When we travel to colleges], we hear their musicians not only play, but speak about their programs and how they’ve been impacted by them.” He says he takes his students on a college tour every year to witness the HBCU experience and understand how marching bands are a staple in that culture.
This week's Battle of the Bands festivities kick off Sept. 16 at the East Professional Center and will feature a community danceline competition, with a battle among HBCU marching bands following. It continues on Sept. 17 at the Bedford High School Bearcats Stadium with a resource fair and the high school marching band competition.
Find the full schedule and more information here.
Other HBCUs attending: The Marching Blue Pride Band of Stillman College under direction of Robert Baxter III; and The Mighty Marching Thorobreds of Kentucky State University under direction of Alvin Level.
Other competing high school bands include Euclid Marching Mighty Panthers from Euclid, Ohio; The Liden-McKinley Unstoppable Marching Mighty Panther Band from Columbus, Ohio; ECorse Mighty Marching Raiders from Ecorse, Michigan; the Chandler Park Academy Sonic Blue Marching Band from Harper Woods, Michigan; Craigmont Tsunami of Sound Marching Band from Memphis, Tennessee; The Oakpark Marching Legion Band of Oakpark, Michigan; and the Mighty Marching Mustangs of Maple Heights, Ohio.
Several community dance teams also hit the floor at East Professional Center: The Diamond Co., Thunder Elite, Reality Check, Dauntless Dancing Divas and Rising Stars Academy of Cheer & Dance.