The Band – Harding University High's "Band of Gold"

In August 2007, Anthony Jones took a phone call.

“He said, ‘This is Barack Obama,’ ” Jones, the musical director at Harding University High School for sixteen years, remembers. The then presidential candidate was hosting a rally in Charlotte, and he needed a good marching band. Could Jones and the band, called the Band of Gold, be ready in a week?

Thankfully, Jones has a knack for conjuring professionalism out of chaos.

At 2:25 p.m., three days a week, Jones stands outside the school’s one music room as nearly 105 band members swarm. Stands shuffle and clang, instruments are misplaced, dance girls practice steps, and antsy drummers nervously patter. The thought of each student marching in time with one another while playing the same song seems, at best, comical.

At 2:30 p.m., like a distant, tribal call, a drum roll starts. It’s hypnotic. The maelstrom of squeaks, laughs, shouts, and confusion begins to divide into lines that face forward, toward Jones. Finally, silence settles.

“I tell the kids, ‘Presence makes purpose; purpose makes a plan; plan makes a product.’ They’re here, they practice, and the product is to win competitions. I have a lot of those sayings,” laughs Jones. “They call my sayings, ‘The Book of Jones.’ ”

“He’s a genius,” says wide-eyed Reshard McElrath, a senior drum major who also plays basketball. “The whole band has a chemistry with him. We have confidence in him.”

“He knows everything,” chimes Ronnelle Brown, another drum major.

Their unfailing faith in Jones has made this band one of the sharpest in the state, whether they’re at competitions, football games, or a band tradition known as Fifth Quarter.

“Fifth Quarter is when the bands stay after a game to compete, like a showdown,” says McElrath, “and you don’t want to be that band that loses.”

But it rarely does. Sweeping the field in uniform, this band can shake a stadium. Tubas sprint toward the center field line, drum majors kick and thrust their batons toward the sky, bass drummers throw their entire torsos into the incessant pounding. It’s unbridled energy, but, under Jones’s guidance, the sound, the precision, the music that caught even the president’s ear, is airtight.  

In December 2008, the band was selected from 1,382 marching band applicants to be part of the 56th Inaugural Parade in Washington, D.C., the only band selected from North Carolina.

Ronnelle remembers his excitement as the Band of Gold marched and banged its way through a snowy downtown D.C., playing the Temptations’ “Get Ready”: “There was so much excitement,” he recalls. “It was such a historical moment, and we had spent so much time preparing.”

But, as the Book of Jones says, and as any of the band members will recite, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” —A. M.

Watch an exclusive short film of the Band of Gold in action:


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