HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Hampton University’s Marching Force will perform at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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The band was scheduled to perform last year but chose to defer their invitation to this year since last year’s event was a made-for-tv event with no in-person audience.

Hampton was just one of nine bands selected out of more than 100 applicants for the parade, which starts at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 25, on NBC (WAVY), Telemundo and Peacock.

Hampton University’s Marching Force had to practice online for a good chunk of the pandemic, but was able to make due and are excited for the opportunity to be on the big stage.

“In a normal year, preparing a band for the Macy’s Parade is stressful and daunting. To do so in the midst of a global pandemic — the challenge is insurmountable. Despite that, we are prepared to not only meet that challenge head-on, but to also excel and make our Hampton University family proud. It is a testament to the hard work of our students and staff, through the support of our fellow faculty and administrators under Dr. Harvey’s unwavering leadership and commitment to excellence,” the school said.

The Marching Force is no stranger to the bright lights. They played in the 2020 Rome New Year’s Day Parade in Italy and the drumline performed at the 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. They’ve also performed at the Honda Battle of the Bands in Atlanta and former President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

“The Marching Force is an elite group of talented, young musicians and dancers who are academically accomplished. This opportunity will allow Hampton University to once again shine on the worldwide stage in front of the millions in attendance and others watching from across the globe,” said Hampton University President, Dr. William R. Harvey.  “Under the direction of Dr. Thomas Jones, The Marching Force continues to uphold THE Standard of Excellence as being one of the best marching bands in the nation.”

For some in the band, it will be their first trip to New York City.

“When we found out we were going to Macy’s, I was excited because in the marching band world, this is one of the biggest performances so everyone’s excited to go,” said Garfield McIntyre, Jr, a Hampton University senior. “We’ve all been watching the parade. For most of us, it’s a culmination for many of our ban careers so it’s huge.”

McIntyre says they were disappointed last year to find out the trip would be postponed, but it was in their best interest.

BELOW: Hampton University marching band leaves for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

“The first reaction was kind of upsetting because we were all looking forward to it but we looked at the bigger picture because it was in the best interest of our safety and our parents’ safety as we would’ve eventually returned home to them and our families as a whole,” he said. “It became apparent that was the best thing to do. Although we were initially upset, we did determine the course looking at things in the long term perspective, it was the best course of action for the band as a whole.”

While it’s the band’s first performance in the parade, it’s the third for director Dr. Thomas L. Jones, Jr. but his first time as directing.

“I tell the students they’re going to have a good time but when you’re in front of these cameras, when you’re in front of these professionals, you’re there to work. You are the talent and you’re expected to do what you need to do and get it done right away,” he said. “There’s no time for practicing and getting it right. I told them from experience everything goes quick. The stage is a lot smaller than you think it is and what you see on TV. More importantly, the experience can be overwhelming if you’re not prepared. So, I know they get tired of me telling them to take it back and run it over again but it’s for muscle memory so when they are out there in the cold and get nervous, they don’t get flustered and falter in what they need to do. It’s just me telling them from my experience and doing this parade.”

Jones, who is a Hampton alumnus and a veteran, says the trip will also serve as a chance for them to recruit students to attend HBCUs in an area where there aren’t many around.

“Leading up to the parade, we’re doing a couple of pep rallies and what we call recruitment rallies where we perform in front of high school students to let them know the HBCU thing where you can attend college and be in the band and receive scholarship money for it,” he said. “Because, up north in New York, HBCUs aren’t as prominent. A lot of students are fed the notion that HBCUs might not be for you or the band might not be for you. We encourage the arts. We want to encourage the interest in music.”

The trip was made possible by sponsorships including Pepsi Stronger Together.

The band hopes it will make its mark at the parade and on those watching to show the excellence of Hampton University.

“The standard of excellence gives us this education for the rest of our lives. As we go out here, we not only want to recruit but show people that because this is a national stage doesn’t mean it’s not for you. It doesn’t mean you can’t get here. It does take hard work and dedication but at the same time, it’s not impossible,” said freshman Jay Jones.

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