When the Southern University Marching Band marches with the Krewe of Zulu parade on Tuesday, it will be the culmination of a great season that didn't play out on the football field.
The band, known far and wide as the Human Jukebox, is putting a wrap on Mardi Gras season. That time of year when marching means money.
This Carnival season, the band brought it's high-step marching style to six parades, earning about $15,000 after expenses.
Some parades, like Sunday's Bacchus and Tuesday's Zulu, ponied up $10,000 each (a profit of about $4,000 after paying for food and transportation) to bring the high-energy unit to the Crescent City, said band director Nathan Haymer.
“That’s just for us,” said Haymer of the five-figure payout from the big parade groups in New Orleans. “I don’t know what the rate is for (other marching bands), but $10,000 is pretty top rate for a band to come to a parade.”
In addition to Bacchus and Zulu, Southern marched in New Orleans in the Mystic Krewe of Femme Fatale and the Mystic Krewe of Nyx and in Mardi Gras parades in Slidell and Kentwood. For the Slidell and smaller New Orleans' parades, the payoff was about $3,500 each after expenses, Haymer said. The Kentwood appearance didn't bring in any extra money, but Haymer said Southern has lots of alumni and fans there, "so it's a great community event for us."
“Oh, it’s going to help us out tremendously," Haymer said of the money. "That’s why we do it."
The band's popularity (it recently won two fan-voted national awards for best band), its precision drills and its diverse musical repertoire make Southern a big draw for parade goers. Southern marches 175 of its 230 members in the big parades and 130 in the smaller parades, Haymer said.
"But we rotate it around so everyone gets a turn," he said.
Haymer said the band also received a donation from the SU alumni chapter in Dallas to march in a parade on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, bringing total parade profits so far this year to between $20,000 and $25,000.
Part of the band's earnings will be used for the HBCU National Band Directors Consortium in March, where Southern will perform Friday, March 23, to close the event. Florida A&M's "The Marching 100" will perform at opening ceremonies March 21.
The remaining funds will go toward travel, concert band expenses and recruiting costs. Southern holds regional tryouts each year in New Orleans, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Memphis, Tennessee. Some of the money will buy letter jackets for outgoing four-year seniors, Haymer said, and it will help pay for the band's banquet in April.
So while those lining parade routes have had the thrill of seeing the Human Jukebox give one of its dynamic performances, so have those on the Baton Rouge campus as the band practiced over the past few weeks to perfect its cadence and sound.
“The people who work on campus, you know, they see the band and it’s like they’re seeing the band for the first time," Haymer says. "Everybody just leaves out of their office. They just come out and just scream and yell.
“Students who happen to get blocked by police, they get out of their cars, get their phones out and take pictures for social media. It’s like a real parade because every time we perform, somebody’s listening, watching or recording.”