Tennessee State’s Aristocrat of Bands is waiting to learn how the album will fare at the Grammys

When Larry Jenkins, assistant director of bands at Tennessee State University and organizer of TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands album The Urban Hymnal, stands and snaps photos on the red carpet at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, it will be a surreal moment.

Jenkins has always dreamed of it – like most musicians – and now it has materialized. In November, Aristocrat of Bands became the first university band to be nominated for a Grammy Award.

“In LA [Los Angeles] I’ll be a nervous wreck, probably a wreck. I’ll try to stay calm. You know, you look at people on TV and you hear them on streaming or whatever, these artists and producers, musicians you’ve seen for years, and at that point you’re in the ranks,” said Jenkins. “You know what I mean? It’s bigger than now.”

Jenkins won’t be alone. More than 280 team members will attend a scheduled event on the Tennessee State Campus, nervously waiting to be announced as winners.

The Urban Hymnal is one of five albums nominated in the best roots gospel category. The band is up for a second Grammy Award as a featured artist for a song with J. Ivy on his album The Poet Who Sat by the Door, which is nominated for Best Spoken Poetry Album.

Co-produced by legendary songwriter Dallas Austin, The Urban Hymnal is a 30-minute, 10-track album that features nearly every genre of gospel music, including a school fight song, and concludes with Reginald McDonald, Director of Bands, congratulating the group on a great performance .

On the album Aristocrat of Bands sweetly plays “Jesus Loves Me” and Jenkins showcases his trumpet skills with gospel great John P. Kee, artist Me’Kayla Smith, poet J. Ivy, pastor Jamal Bryant and songwriter and artist Sir Baptist on “Alright.” Kierra Sheard put the Edwin Hawkins classic “Goin’ Up Yonder” in the song “Going Going”. Other gospel stars on The Urban Hymnal include Fred Hammond, Donald Lawrence, Jekalyn Carr and Mali Music.

“If we’re lucky enough to take him home, I know [there will be] tears, pride, great pride for HBCU, great pride for TSU, and just stamping history,” Jenkins said. “We’re just so grateful to be recognized in this kind of way and have work not just yours, work by students and all the other artists who have poured in to be recognized.”

A spiritual saying goes, “God moves in mysterious ways.” Jenkins and Sir the Baptist came up with the design for a Mexican restaurant on Cinco de Mayo.

Jenkins, charged with developing an artist-in-residence program with Sir the Baptist, wrote the plan on a napkin. Then Jenkins looked him in the eye and said, “Let’s make an album.” Sir the Baptist replied that he was waiting for Jenkins to say it.

The process of creating the album began there. This was followed by non-stop rehearsals with the full band, various sections and individual studio sessions.

Everyone said it was hard work. But it was just as difficult for students who juggled band practice with academic studies. However, team members said they were made for the challenge.

Sydney Verge, who played the piccolo on the album, recalls how stressful it was when professional artists first put the flute section in front of the microphone.

“They were like, ‘Hey, we just need you to record this section.’ And we were like, ‘Don’t screw it up,’ Verge said with a laugh. “They’re right in front of the mic, watching us, listening to make sure we’re in tune. I don’t think we’ve ever held our breath that long in our music career. But in the end you just, you know, get into the groove and just perform.

For Curtis Olawumi, who was second drum major last year, this meant putting in extra hours after the others had left, often staying until 4am working on overdubs and perfecting his part while others left around 10pm; the team started work around 4:00 p.m.

“Once we started recording stuff, man, it went from whole band hours, hours a day, to small groups, hours a day,” said Olawumi. “My experience was a bit different when I was on the album [as a soloist]. I was ready to make that commitment. That’s what we’re doing.”

Olawumi and his bandmates were used to working hard for reunions and other major events like Battle of the Bands, but this project was on a higher level. The opportunity to work with the artists whose songs he sang in church – and the result – was worth it.

“This is a monumental moment for me, the band, the university and also the musicians. It’s never been done before, for the first time ever,” said Olawumi, now the lead drummer who also plays trumpet. He plays trumpet on “Dance Revival” and “Fly (Y.M.M.F.)”.

“For the band itself and for the next group of leaders and musicians and our doctors, lawyers, lawyers and this next group of leaders [in Tennessee], it’s going to be something to talk about because now this group that [made] this album is history.” – he said.

It’s unclear if Olawumi will attend the Grammys despite having two nominations. The band will return with the HBCU All-Star Battle of the Bands, scheduled for Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Provided / Tennessee State University

Grammy nominations are among the many achievements of the Band Aristocrat. The band is also nominated for an NAACP Image Award this year. Other major successes include being the first HBCU team to appear on national television during halftime of the Los Angeles Rams-Chicago Bears NFL game in 1955, and being the first HBCU team to perform at the 1961 presidential inauguration for John F. Kennedy.

Understanding this rich past made the producer of Dubba-AA, a graduate of Aristocrat of Bands, want to work on a project – to create more stories.

“Being at Tennessee State or any HBCU teaches you how to be a leader, doesn’t it? Being on that show prepared me for the real world as an adult,” said Dubba-AA, who played snare and was on the drum line from 2012 to 2016.

“When I got to Tennessee, I learned all the values ​​and musicality that I didn’t know I needed. Dr. McDonald was my leader, the person who guided me through things, and now I’m back and committed to his program. He’s taught me a lot more than he thinks.”

That’s why winning a Grammy for his school would be something special. As an artist, Dubba-AA said he has received over 100 records and recorded multi-platinum songs, but nothing compares to home.

“Honestly, it’s humbling and an honor to be nominated,” said Dubba-AA, who has a new tailored The Urban Hymnal tuxedo and jacket ready for the post-event performance.

Although the Verge will be on a different coast than her team leader Jenkins, she will be just as excited on Sunday. Regardless of the outcome, she knows it will be a lifetime memory and bond with her teammates.

“It’s amazing. While we have a lot of hope and optimism, we never thought we’d be nominated for a Grammy,” he told The Verge. “It’s just been a great experience, just amazing to be a part of it. that it’s exciting, but I’m just very confident that the work put into this project will shine.

“Everything we’ve done has been great up until this point, so I’m sure it’s going to be fun to watch.”

An industry veteran of 30 years, Darren A. Nichols is an award-winning journalist and columnist for the Detroit Free Press.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *