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'The Sound of Excellence': TSU's Aristocrat of Bands makes history as first ever HBCU to win a Grammy

Their original album "The Urban Hymnal" won the Best Roots Gospel album. This honor is a first of its kind for HBCUs and in marching band history.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Update (2/6): The Aristocrat of Bands took home a Grammy for Best Roots Gospel Album. 


Students from Tennessee State University's marching band are gearing up for the Grammys.

The school's marching band – The Aristocrat of Bands – is the first ever Historically Black College and University to be nominated.

Their original album "The Urban Hymnal" is up for Best Roots Gospel album. This honor is a first of its kind for HBCUs and in marching band history.

This accolade is another achievement for them to add to their list. They are known as ‘The Band of Firsts.’ They are also known for setting monumental records and representing communities of color up high. 

Curtis Olawumi is one of the students in the band who is breaking barriers. He is a trumpet player and a team leader who guides part of the band.  

At only 21 years old and a senior at TSU, Olawumi can say he is a two-time Grammy nominee. 

His hard work and musical talent landed him a feature on the album’s gospel song “FLY.”

“No other HBCU has done this,” he said. “No other college, or university, or institution, or whatever you want to call it has done this, you know, we are the first.”

Olawumi and his trumpet, Carol, have been inseparable since the age of nine. He discovered the sounds of a trumpet in elementary school. For him, his music and his trumpet are his getaways to opportunities.  

"For me, personally, I don't think a band is complete without the royal instrument here, the noble instrument here," Olawumi said. 

He is a kid from Atlanta who grew up around life's unforeseen challenges but music has been his sense of saving grace. 

"Let me put it like this...  if it wasn't for this piece of metal right here, I don't know what I'll be doing right now," he said. 

That piece of metal led him to TSU on a full-ride scholarship to play with the Aristocrat of Bands. Behind the students' success and hard work stands Dr. McDonald, the director of the band. 

Like many of the students, he, himself is also an inner-city kid. Dr. McDonald knew learning how to play the saxophone would be the golden ticket. 

"Music is that one thing when everything else around me is chaotic, music makes sense," Dr. McDonald said. "To me, being a band director makes sense. Being a music educator makes sense to me, being a leader in the African American community, that makes sense to me."

He said this album is a first of its kind in HBCU band history and making an original album as a marching band is not common in the field of music. 

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