What African American Marching Bands Teach Us About Black Culture
Professor Jules Allen didn’t pay much attention to marching bands when he was in college, but a marching band he saw in an African American Day parade in Harlem awakened him to it as a “precision art form,” as a public spectacle, and a culture that “breathes the soul and spirit of Africa within the modern world.”
Allen, a professor at Queensborough Community College, traveled the country for five years photographing African American marching bands from California to New Jersey, from Atlanta to Chicago, at historically black colleges and even high schools, capturing the early light on the shining brass instruments, the dedication of the students, and the rhythmic precision of the choreography.
The result was his book, Marching Bands. It is the fourth book by Allen, a longtime professor whose photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian, and the National Gallery.
In an interview, Allen notes that he was at “war” with photographers who “just take the weakest component of our culture and exploit it because there’s an audience for it. My motivation is that I get to celebrate the beauty. … I do dispute a lot of that work that really misrepresents so much of the culture, so I’m at war with it.”