By Steve Williams
Tennessee State University’s world-renowned Aristocrat of Bands made Austin-East High School’s 2015 homecoming a special one Friday, and Rick Staples made it happen, according to longtime A-E band director Dorothy Brice.
“He talked to me back in late August and said, ‘I got a vision and I want to do this,’ and he did it,” said Brice, who is in her 16th year at Austin-East.
The TSU band marched and played in the afternoon homecoming parade and performed at halftime of the A-E football game Friday night.
“The communication from Rick Staples and his team saw the need for our community to see what HBCU (Historical Black Colleges and Universities) bands are all about,” said Brice.
“Austin-East is the only (local) band that emulates the style of HBCU bands. He wanted to bring in the Tennessee State band, which is the closest one to us that’s a soul band and we emulate. He got the ball rolling and he got them here.”
Staples, an East Knoxville resident who is a candidate for Knox County District 1 commissioner, said, “First and foremost, I had to do it with the permission of Dorothy Brice and what she sacrifices every year with the band.
“Thinking about the kids in our community, there’s been a lot of dark days with senseless gun violence taking place. There’s kind of been a dark cloud over the community.
“Of course we had to negotiate with Tennessee State University the past few months.”
In addition to the enjoyment of seeing and hearing the TSU band, the main objective was to provide inspiration to the youth in the community.
“The biggest thing about leadership in my mindset,” said Staples, “is when you go forward with something you have to do it with a heart and mind for service, and what you do with that is create partnerships that will go on beyond you.
“What we’ve done is created a partnership with TSU and local alumni, Austin-East High School and its administration in order to steer our children toward higher learning and higher learning institutions. We’re kind of using the band as another avenue they can take for higher learning.”
“That is what our biggest hope is,” said Brice following an afternoon pep rally, “that young people who are going to be on the streets watching the parade and in the stands at the game will say, ‘Hey, I want to be like that and join the Austin-East marching Roadrunners. That’s what our hope is.”
Former Austin-East band members Christian Jordan and Tierra Thompson were TSU graduates and band members last year, said Brice. Justin Littlejohn and Franklin Owens also were two of her students who played in the TSU band in recent years.
“What I’m so thankful for is that they were willing to come to a high school outside of Nashville and perform for us,” added Brice. “That’s the greatest gift that we can get right now.”
The last year the Tennessee State band performed at Austin-East homecoming was 1999, Brice’s first year as band director at A-E.