The teenagers in the crowd, the hundreds wearing marching-band uniforms in their school colors, screamed and swirled and swooned when entertainer LL Cool J stepped onstage yesterday to award trophies in the Battle of the Bands contest, one of several homecoming festivities at Howard University in the District.
"I know I see a lot of artists and musicians out there," he said to raucous applause. LL Cool J told the crowd yesterday at the historically black college that he will establish a scholarship for aspiring artists.
The rapper and actor, born 36 years ago in Queens, N.Y., as James Todd Smith, found success as a teenage rapper with the moniker Ladies Love Cool James, or LL Cool J, and has since been a mainstay in the entertainment industry.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of you and how much I support you," he said, looking into the entranced faces of the young people. "At the end of the day, all of this leads to our future, and our future is about success," he said.
Clutching the first-place trophy for high-stepping on behalf of the Surrattsville High School band, Tia Body, 17, a senior at the Clinton school, said a scholarship could help her realize a dream to go into music production.
"I live for music, and that's what I want to do," she said.
The amount of the LL Cool J Endowed Scholarship Fund has not been set, but university policy dictates a $10,000 minimum for any endowed scholarship, said Keith D. Miles, litigation manager in the university's general counsel's office. The scholarship will be open to students pursuing majors in the Fine Arts Division of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Miles, who steered the planning for the homecoming parade, said the idea for an endowed scholarship, which will be awarded from the interest earned from the fund, resulted from months of meetings after the university contacted LL Cool J about participating in the homecoming celebration.
President H. Patrick Swygert said the university is excited by the pledge. "It's a wonderful statement on his part and shows his interest in reaching back and helping people get an education," he said.
Swygert joined LL Cool J and athletics director Sondra Norrell-Thomas for the coin toss that started the football game between the Howard Bisons and the Norfolk State Spartans.
The cheerleaders strutted and clapped. The Howard band blared LL Cool J's recent hit, "Headsprung." The home crowd taunted the visitors on bad plays. Howard won the game, 35-17.
Krystal Randolph, 30, of Richmond, who graduated from Howard in 1997, returned for homecoming to see some former football players and other friends.
"There's just something electrifying about Howard homecoming," Randolph said. "There's just nothing like it."