When he heard the news, band director Darrell Watson leaned back against a wall and slid to the ground, tears in his eyes.
His marching band, the Ballou Majestic Knights, was selected to march in the parade for President Obama’s second inauguration.
“Is this a joke? Is someone playing a game?” he recalled thinking. “But, it just really hit me. It was an amazing moment.”
Ballou was one of nearly 3,000 organizations that applied to march in the parade. Watson said he submitted information about the band and recommendations, as well as a video and audio clip.
The preparation was hard work, Watson said, but his students didn’t shy away from the challenge.
“It speaks volumes about them because they could have said, ‘No, Mr. Watson, we don’t want to do this,’ or ‘Mr. Watson, this is too hard,’” he said. “But we never really thought of it that way. . . . They were behind it 100 percent.”
Just several hundred applicants were selected as finalists, Watson said. Fewer than 100 were chosen to march in the parade.
Genuine Kinsey, a senior drum major, said he knew Watson had big news when the director pulled students out of class in December. Right now, Kinsey said, his emotions are mixed.
“I’m excited, I’m shy, I’m scared but I’m happy,” he said. “I just can’t wait until Monday happens.”
Is he nervous about the performance? Don’t count on it.
“I’ve been through that phase, seen my first performance, been scared for my first performance,” Kinsey said. “Now, the nerves are gone. It’s just like another performance . . . except that it’s in front of the president.”
Danae Giles, a junior dancer in the band, said it is “an honor” to be chosen to perform for the president. She feels calm, she said, because the band has worked hard to prepare.
“In order to be close to perfect, you have to practice, work out,” Giles said. “It's hard work, but you have to just push yourself, you have to practice so you can be the best band in the land, like we are.”
Monday’s inaugural parade will not be the first major performance for the Majestic Knights. The band has marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York and the Tournament of Roses in California. They were also in the parade for the 2005 inauguration of President George W. Bush.
Members of this year’s band said they knew about the past achievements and wanted to put their stamp on the Majestic Knights’ history.
“When I joined the band, I was told they did the inauguration in 2005 and I was jealous,” said Malika Thorne. “I wanted to do that, I wanted to be in the band at that time. And now that we get to do it, I’m living my dream.”
Along with leaving their stamp on the band’s history, Watson and his students said this is an opportunity to show what Southeast D.C. and Ballou have to offer.
“Forget the stereotype, because a lot of great things can come out of Southeast Washington, D.C., and a lot of accomplishments, too,” Giles said.
The band got a treat at rehearsal Tuesday afternoon when D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) stopped by to offer his congratulations. He told the students he was proud of them and that he would be there on Inauguration Day.
“I’m gonna high-five everyone that’s in this band and say let’s go get them, Washington, D.C.,” the mayor said to a chorus of cheers from the band members.
For Watson, who has led the band to plenty of accomplishments since he took over the program in 1995, this performance will be particularly special.
“It has to top the list because of the historic factor behind it,” he said. “For the first African American president, and having the parade be on the day celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, it’s just like the stars aligned perfectly.”
Watson said he has no doubt his students are ready to go.
“Whether it’s cold, if it’s whatever, we’re prepared for whatever comes our way,” he said.