Tuesday's Inaugural Parade will have a line-up of more than 80 bands, chosen from more than 1400 applicants around the country. Among the first to march down Pennsylvania Avenue will be the Brooklyn "Steppers" Marching Band, made up of young people from New York City. In the weeks since they learned they'd been chosen, the Brooklyn school children and teens have been rehearsing in every free moment, and with their parents, raising money for their trip to Washington.
The rehearsals -- one almost every other day since December -- take place at the Brooklyn Boys and Girls public high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a historically African-American section of New York. The Brooklyn "Steppers" marching band includes brass, woodwind, and percussion players. There's also a flag-twirling component, and a troupe of dancers, who lead off the band's marches. Members range from eight to 19 years old, and attend schools all over Brooklyn.
Bandleader Tyrone Brown said that being chosen to perform in the Inaugural Parade is a great honor, but not a great surprise. "What we know is that our music is strong, that our package was strong, our stories are strong, we are a strong program,” he said. “We are New York's premier marching band, so if they're going to find a marching band from New York, it has to be us. So, it's exciting, you know, we had some doubts, but not many. We got a phone call on a Saturday morning that told us we were in."
The Brooklyn "Steppers" follow a traditional African-American "high-step" style of marching, he says, that is more dance-like than military. "This band comes from a history of black college marching bands up and down the south, where marching high, and the high leg-lift is a tradition,” Brown said. “And we just kind of adopted that tradition and brought it to New York."
The band has often traveled around the country to play. This Martin Luther King Day, they will be performing at New York's Madison Square Garden for Martin Luther King's birthday celebration. But members say nothing will compare to the day after, when they will be in the first division leading the Inaugural Parade for Barack Obama.
Twelve-year-old Samantha Umpthery plays the cymbals. "I feel it's an honor to play for the first black President of the United States,” she said, adding, “And also I prayed that everybody will stand up for him that God will watch over him." Tanet Fleming, 9, who plays the tenor drum, said she has become a celebrity at school. "I'm going to be excited because my classmates are asking me autographs from him and stuff, like pictures,” she said. Tubaist Timmy Okotieuro, 16, said, “This is epic, to be able to be a part of it, to say to my children and for them to tell their children, yeah, I had a relative who performed at the inauguration of the first African-American president.”
Band parents like Sharon Joseph are just as excited as their children, if not more so. "I'm not quite sure if they really recognize the great opportunity this is. Of all the marching bands around, to be chosen out of Brooklyn to come and participate in this history-making event, I'm not quite sure if they've gotten it yet."
Band leader Tyrone Brown says that in their march down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Brooklyn "Steppers" will play about half a dozen songs. They will include a Bill Withers song, “Lovely Day,” and the Stevie Wonder tune that was a theme of Mr. Obama's campaign: "Signed, Sealed, Delivered [I'm Yours]."