By Tenae Taylor
Seven decades of Florida A&M University (FAMU) Marching “100” Band performances have been catching dust on reel-to-reel film in the University’s Foster-Tanner Music Building. FAMU alumnus Dale Thomas is changing that.
Thomas, who graduated in 1986 with a music education degree, has organized a digitization project set to collect and preserve footage of the Marching “100” that will provide global access to the revolutionary era of band founder William P. Foster, Ph.D.
“Music has always been a part of the cultural history of Florida A&M University since 1887 and the Music Department, with its various musical ensembles, has helped to establish that culture,” said Thomas, who has been a band director in Oklahoma and Florida and has written articles and two books related to band history. “Collecting, preserving and making these historical and archival materials easily accessible, is important for the legacy of the programs.”
With more than 30 videos of recovered footage published on YouTube, Thomas has over 250,000 views spread across his channel. Some of the digitized video is included in the latest episode of the Black Entertainment Television (BET) lifestyle documentary series “We Own Homecoming,” which features the Marching “100.”
Streamed on Facebook Watch and hosted by Jasmine Luv, the weekly series will highlight the nation’s historically Black college and universities (HBCU) culture and homecoming traditions. Beginning Nov. 7, the Marching “100” will be in the spotlight, introducing the band to an even wider audience.
That attention is well-deserved, said Nashid Madyun Ph.D., director of the FAMU Black Archives and Research Center, which houses images of HBCU life from the early 20th Century and late 19th Century and houses films of the University’s football program from the 1950s to the present.
“FAMU has pioneered many areas of American life, but of utmost importance to HBCU band leadership and design, is the work of Dr. Foster and the Marching ‘100,’” Madyun said. Thomas is enabling access to a national treasure.
“Present generations should know this brilliance,” Madyun added.
Some of the University’s archived film had deteriorated or needed immediate attention. Thomas, who previously served FAMU as a music librarian and assistant university librarian and is a media specialist with Leon County Schools, said he was able to salvage Marching “100” reels more than 65 years old. His main challenge was finding equipment on which to view the original film.
Most financial support for the digitization project has been provided through a grant from the Bernard and Shirley Kinsey Foundation for Arts & Education. Fellow alumni have also chipped in with donations.
Viewing the films gives band alumni and longtime supporters a sense of nostalgia and pride in knowing that they helped contribute to the legacy of the music and band programs at FAMU.
Shelby Chipman, Ph.D., Marching “100” director who trained under William Foster, appreciates Thomas’ preservation efforts.
“He continues to be an advocate of the Music Department as well as the Marching “100,” so I think this is great that he’s added on another layer that will be now part of the documentary done by BET, who has supported FAMU as well.”