Photo Credit: @Grambling1901 on Twitter
On April 14, 2018 Beyonce changed Coachella forever when she became the first black woman to headline the popular music festival. Fast forward to a year later, and now she’s brought us a new Netflix documentary about her performance titled “Homecoming: A Beyonce Film.” In the film, we see how Beyonce decided to bring a different vibe to Coachella by channeling an energy similar to the epic marching band clashes we see between HBCUs during their annual homecomings and classics. Being from Louisiana myself, I was very excited to see that two of our historic HBCUs, Southern University and Grambling State University, were both recognized within Beyonce’s Homecoming extravaganza.
Since Beyonce didn’t get a true college experience herself, she used this opportunity at Coachella to perform her music with a black college band, or a black orchestra as she calls it, and adapted dance moves from several well-known HBCU dance teams. “When I decided to do Coachella, instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella,” says Beyonce in her film. Her performance was truly an African-American woman embracing history, paying tribute to black college culture, and honoring black art.
Photo Credit: bglh-marketplace.com
One of the most well-known annual HBCU classics is the Bayou Classic, which is held every Thanksgiving in New Orleans. This classic has featured Louisiana rivals Grambling State University and Southern University battling it out on the football field for almost 50 years. Even though this classic is technically a football game, some would say that the battle of the bands is the main attraction of this event, and the football game is just lagniappe.
Because Southern University and Grambling State University are two HBCUs with such rich history, Beyonce asked both schools to be a part of her Netflix documentary in different ways. The singer included footage of the 2014-2015 Southern University Dancing Dolls squad and Human Jukebox Band during a football game around the 30-minute mark in her documentary. For a while now, Beyonce has found inspiration from the Dancing Dolls, especially when it comes to their catch-ons, which is a dance sequence performed by one dancer followed by other dancers repeating the same sequence. In addition to the documentary, she's also featured former Dancing Dolls in her SuperBowl performance in New Orleans and in her 'Lemonade' visual album.
Grambling State University’s involvement with the documentary was a bit of a different experience. The school's dance team and band were chosen to perform at a private event for Beyonce last month during the 2019 Coachella music festival. “The experience was nothing but an incredible feeling. To be able to hug and interact with her was priceless,” said dance team member Alana Arvie to Baton Rouge news station WBRZ. The band and dance team performed for celebrity guests such as Travis Scott, Karrueche, and Winnie Harlow.
This was not Beyonce’s first involvement with Grambling State University though. Last year, her Beygood Foundation awarded a $25,000 scholarship to mass communication student Cletus Emokpae.
Let’s face it, the closest Beyonce got to a college experience was being in Destiny’s Child, so I’m sure this particular experience is one of the brightest moments of her career. As one can imagine, social media has been a flurry since the release of Homecoming on March 29, and even higher education leaders said that her documentary is a reminder of the importance of HBCUs in preparing minority students to flourish in the real world. Hopefully, Beyonce’s film and accompanying live album will spark a surge in philanthropic efforts to HBCUs across the nation and inspire the next generation of minority leaders to continue to do great things.