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Photos: How two high schools' marching bands returned to Mardi Gras after two years

Mardi Gras parades are back in New Orleans this month, which means dozens of high school marching bands have returned to the streets.

Education reporter Aubri Juhasz interviewed and photographed student musicians and band directors at two high schools, Warren Easton in Mid-City, and Frederick A. Douglass in the Ninth Ward.

Warren Easton’s well established band embodies its motto, “Discipline makes us better,” while Douglass, a self-described “beginner band” is focused on rebuilding this year.

Both bands said they are working hard to keep the culture of New Orleans marching bands alive.

Students attend marching practice at Warren Easton Charter High School on Feb. 11, 2022.
Aubri Juhasz
/
WWNO
Students attend marching practice at Warren Easton Charter High School on Feb. 11, 2022.

“It’s hard work, and by the time you blink your eyes, it’s over,” said Asia Muhaimin, Warren Easton’s band director.

Muhaimin is a New Orleans native and graduated from Easton, where she played the clarinet, in 1995 and has led the band for more than a decade.

One of her favorite parts of parade season is spending hours with her students.

“By the time the day's over, the kids are so tired,” she said. “I'm like, ‘You going to a parade?’ and they’re like, ‘No, I'm going to sleep.”

“I don’t know what I’d be doing right now if it wasn’t for band,” said Drew Crosby, 18, Warren Easton’s drum major.

Crosby said over the years, band has kept him focused on school and his community.

"I just tell everyone I love them because I do," he said. "Band changed all our lives, honestly."

Douglass student Renoia Watson (second from left) stands with the band's woodwind section on Feb. 17, 2022.
Aubri Juhasz
/
WWNO
Douglass student Renoia Watson (second from left) stands with the band's woodwind section on Feb. 17, 2022.

Marching bands rely on Mardi Gras performances to recruit future students. The tactic worked on Douglass student Renoia Watson, 16, when she came to the U.S. from Jamaica.

“I decided I want to be in the band after my very first time at Mardi Gras,” she said. “After seeing how much work is put into it, I’ve grown to respect it a lot more.”

Director Jordan Harper leads Douglass' final pre-parade season practice on Feb. 17, 2022.
Aubri Juhasz
/
WWNO
Director Jordan Harper leads Douglass' final pre-parade season practice on Feb. 17, 2022.

Douglass’ band didn't have any members when Jordan Harper took it over at the start of the school year. Since then he's recruited 50 students, many of them first time musicians.

“I'm excited and also nervous because I have a beginner band,” Harper said ahead of parade season. ”I just can't wait to get out in the streets and give them the experience that made me love music and made me love being from New Orleans.”

Harper, a New Orleans native, missed his own senior parade season due to Hurricane Katrina.

“Just being in the streets of New Orleans with my own program is surreal.”

Harper directs the band at its final practice before the start of parade season on Feb. 17, 2022.
Aubri Juhasz
/
WWNO
Harper directs the band at its final practice before the start of parade season on Feb. 17, 2022.

Mardi Gras is a strenuous time with over two weeks of nonstop parades. Music and choreography must be memorized, and bands typically battle one another informally on the routes.

There are few formal competitions — instead, performances are recorded and posted on YouTube.

“The crowd’s opinion is bigger than the other band's opinion,” said Jalani Smith, Douglass’ drum major.

“If you have a bad attitude before a parade route, I guarantee you at the end of the parade route you won’t have a bad attitude,” said Crosby, Warren Easton’s drum major. “By the time you get under the bridge, whether it’s your people under the bridge or not, everybody is smiling.”

Warren Easton seniors Crosby, Connor Goodley, Marcus Williams and Nikem Hosey said they know their band experience isn’t typical.

“I’m blessed to ever had the experience of marching in a New Orleans high school marching band. It’s different in other places, but it’s the best in this city,” Williams said.

“It’s just better in New Orleans,” Hosey chimed in.

Crosby said being drum major has made him a leader in the community, and he takes the role seriously.

“When we marching and we stop and somebody's parents asks one of us, ‘Can you take a picture of my little child,’ I really feel like we’re their big brothers,” he said. “We're looking at the future when we take these pictures. I really respect that.”

Goodley, Warren Easton's percussion leader, and his bandmates are often physically exhausted at the end of an hours-long parade, but they love it.

“It was a lot of adrenaline that kept us going,” Goodley said after the band’s first parade of the season. “It feels like I’m back home.”

Frederick A. Douglass High School's band marches in Cleopatra, its first parade of the season, on Feb. 18, 2022.
Katelyn Umholtz
/
WWNO
Frederick A. Douglass High School's band marches in Cleopatra, its first parade of the season, on Feb. 18, 2022.

Jalani Smith, Douglass’ drum major, said he was devastated when parade season was canceled last year. He’s a senior and doesn’t know if he’ll continue marching in college.

“I don’t really know what my future is, so I really needed this,” he said.

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