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Morgan’s Magnificent Marching Machine to perform at Normandy D-Day 80th anniversary

Malcolm Mobley plays his heart out in the 93rd annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Malcolm Mobley plays his heart out in the 93rd annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Morgan State’s marching band to perform 80 years after Allied forces landed on Normandy’s beaches on June 6 — the first and only HBCU to do so.

Danielle Linkins, Staff Writer, MSU Spokesman

Morgan State University’s marching band known as the “Magnificent Marching Machine” will perform at the D-Day Memorial Parade in Normandy, France, at 10:00am local time on Thursday.

Music Celebrations International and the American Veteran Affairs Center invited the band to perform last summer to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Normandy D-Day invasion, which began the morning of June 6, 1944. This performance will make Morgan State the first and only HBCU to have that honor.

Jorim E. Reid is Morgan State’s director of bands as well as an assistant professor and coordinator of instrumental music, and fine and performing arts. According to Reid, Morgan’s historic performance can also highlight the importance of remembering the African American and Native American soldiers who also served in a segregated U.S. military.

“There were almost 10,000 young soldiers that did not even make it across the beach where we’ll be marching. For me personally, my grandfather came in on that beach and if he had not survived, I wouldn’t be here,” Reid said. “Native American … [and] certainly African Americans, they were responsible for cleaning up bodies. In some places, they weren’t even allowed to fight even though they wanted to fight.”

D-Day was a turning point for World War II and was a huge air, land and sea assault consisting of Allied Forces from the United Kingdom, Canada, America, Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia (which is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia), Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.

In the wee hours of the June morning, Allied servicemen loaded onto amphibious vehicles — “vehicles” that resembled large, metal, boat-shaped boxes without lids — to traverse the choppy, open water. More than 195,000 Allied servicemen manned the 7,000 ships and landing craft that ferried nearly 133,000 men from international waters to French shores.

A bloody, brutal siege awaited them on shore. By the time the shore was secure and Allied forces pushed inland, more than 10,000 Allied men were dead according to the National Archives’s digital collection.

Nearby mountains, hills and trees form a picturesque landscape with Normandy’s beaches, said the band director. “There’s blood on that sand and we don’t want to negate that,” said Reid. “The students are really starting to pick up on it.”

The band’s group includes 142 people total: 118 students and 24 chaperones. Together, they’ll spend about a week in France, arriving in Paris on June 5 and performing in Normandy on June 6. They will play “America the Beautiful” while marching between two historic towns: Vierville-sur-Mer and Saint Laurent-sur-Mer, both of which overlook Omaha Beach.

Joel Booker, a junior music major and section leader for the drumline, said performing will be a way to commemorate everyone — including the African Americans who served.

“I feel like it’s a such a great opportunity, like for HBCUs in general and for me as an African American,” said Booker. “Honestly, I just feel like it’s the greatest example of symbolism ever.”

According to Reid, this trip will also be the first time many of the band’s members have traveled abroad.

“You don’t know a lot about yourself until you’ve explored other places in the world. For me, it’s about getting these students the experience of traveling abroad … the smells, the history, the things they’ve seen on TV that they’ll see in person,” said Reid.

Drum Major Travis Jones said the band’s invitation and performance can open more opportunities to HBCUs in the future.

“I see a lot of HBCUs now getting a lot of grants, a lot of donations from top people and for Morgan to be [the] national treasure and … get this first opportunity to lead the D-Day Parade is just another highlight that we can add toward Morgan,” Jones said.

Head Drum Major Tory James echoed a similar sentiment and said, “It shows people that we’re also doing big things … we got big performances because we’re actually working hard to get it.”

Morgan State’s band will also perform “Tribute to (Fallen) Americans” at the Normandy American cemetery and place a wreath to show their respect to the fallen on June 8.

BBC has announced it will begin broadcasting D-Day proceedings at 8:30pm EST Tuesday, June 5.