by Alexis Clark
Tennessee State University’s Grammy-award-winning Aristocrat of Bands continues to go where no other band has gone. This time, it was at the 2023 Country Music Association Fest (CMA) in downtown Nashville, serving as the opening act. Early morning concertgoers rocked to the soulful sounds of AOB and watched the Sophisticated Ladies creating an unforgettable HBCU band experience. Thursday marked another successful and historic performance as the TSU band became the first collegiate band to perform at the four-day music festival.
“This is important because people don’t usually associate country music with HBCU bands, said Hailey Russell, a Nashville native who is a piccolo section leader for AOB. “So us performing today felt like bridging a gap and letting us celebrate music all around.”
Russell said the best part of the overall experience was kicking off the CMA Fest Hall of Fame Ceremony with a performance on the John Seigenthaler pedestrian bridge. “Playing on the pedestrian bridge with everyone who walked past being able to enjoy our music even if they weren’t there for the CMA Fest was my favorite part.”
TSU graduate student Jibril Lee, who plays the trumpet, said he was very excited about the outcome of the crowd and their performance. “It was a different stage, a different environment and it was amazing,” Lee said. “I’m feeling pretty excited about the future of AOB performances of this magnitude, like the CMA Fest.”
The massive crowd, at the Riverfront Stage, also roared with applause as the band accompanied local 8th-grade student Ariah McEwen, who sang the National Anthem.
Assistant band director Larry Jenkins said the performance represented everything AOB and the university stands for. “This was an amazing performance,” Jenkins said. “I am glad we were able to represent the university on this stage and that the crowd got to experience the culture as we know it.”
AOB’s Director Dr. Reginald McDonald said he is grateful that the students took time out of their summer to be a part of CMA Fest memories. “For them to give up two weeks of their summer to be here for TSU is truly amazing,” McDonald said.
“I am feeling extremely proud right now. This is the opportunity for people to see the excellence of TSU.”