Remembering West Charlotte's exceptional marching band
In this excerpt, McAllister describes the tradition and style of African American marching bands—the flashy style, catchy tunes, and enthusiastic audience response. McAllister vividly remembers the band members' red-soled white shoes. Football games are still a draw in the West Charlotte community, in part because of the magnetism of the band.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Latrelle McAllister, June 25, 1998. Interview K-0173. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
PG: That’s such an interesting story. I’m interested--. You talked about being in the marching band. Again, one of the things that most people talk about in relationship to integration is that white marching bands and black marching bands, typically, have very different styles in marching. I know the music is--. Tell me a little bit about that.
LM: Part of it was with the marching bands at historically black colleges and universities it is more of entertainment. It’s not so much the people who participate are certainly able to play the classics who know the classics and are excellent musicians. I was probably the exception to the rule. I wasn’t a good musician. But, part of it is the heritage and the style that comes with the entertainment. A lot of the music is contemporary music. A lot of the--.
The steps are rhythmic and the precision comes from the rhythm more so than the execution of the marching. So, with the West Charlotte Lions the heritage was, how high can you get your steps and how white can you get your bucks? Your shoes.
So, that’s a part of the whole ritual was you had to wear white bucks, suede bucks with red soles and then there was an art to polishing those. Because it was a disgrace that you soles had white polish on them. They had to be red soles and white bucks and then the key was, those feet had to be flying. You had to have those knees high stepping. We always had to practice our routine so that when we got to the square you knew that we were there.
We didn’t anticipate winning any band contest. We probably could have won some dance contests, but not any band contests. But that wasn’t our goal. Part of it was to be there as a support for our team.
PG: So how did white musicians work their way into this? Did they have a lot to learn?
LM: No, I think that part of it was you just had a different style. As a matter of fact, by the time I got to school it really wasn’t so much a black--. Well, I guess it was. Even at West Charlotte, I mean at West Mecklenburg where they had a black band director, there was more of a--. They had a more conservative style. It was more of a true marching band style. Later on, I think, West Mecklenburg began to take on some of those characteristics of West Charlotte. But, it wasn’t necessarily because we had a black band director. West Mecklenburg did, too. So, it was an appreciation for both sides. If you were in our stadium you came on and did your halftime and then we went on the field with a fast drill and formations and everybody was up in the stands dancing.
Even to this day, people my age and older still go back to West Charlotte high school games. It’s still part of the--. We go and take our kids. I imagine some of my classmates are taking their grandkids; so, that’s still part of that coming back to the school. It’s almost like a college homecoming really, a black college homecoming, or any college homecoming where people come back.
PG: I’m just going to go on for a minute about the shoes. I like that. Is this something, how to do the shoes--? Is this something that when you arrived at West Charlotte you knew about the people, you’d seen people doing or you’d heard people talking about these kinds of things?
LM: Well, certainly you knew about the appearance because the shoes were always white and pristine. People were always high stepping and marching. Then they had a move called the freeze. That’s where we’d just stop abruptly in the middle of the street. Then what you’d do is bend down as far as you good and back, back up. The end result was the knee high and the toe pointed. While you didn’t know that that was it. That was part of the uniform. I guess I didn’t. When you got there, the band members--. The band members, the older band members--. It was kind of an orientation. Kind of, maybe, that the orientation that the band members, the senior band members gave to the younger band members.
PG: I guess I’m just still trying to think. How did--? I assume that there were white members of the band, or was the band pretty much all black, do you think?
LM: There were a few. There were a few, a lot of girls and cheerleaders and part of the whole entourage. But there were a few white members of the band. They assimilated. I think that they had fun as well as we did. Certainly, band was an option choice. So if they were there they wanted to be there. They took part in it just as anyone else did.