Morgan State University’s famed marching band took part in a “Battle of the Bands” to help kick off a Juneteenth concert and celebration at The White House on Tuesday night.
As night fell upon a crowd of invited guests and reporters on the South Lawn, the Magnificent Marching Machine squared off against its counterpart from Tennessee State University, the Aristocrat of Bands, to welcome in the crowd.
Morgan State and Tennessee were among four HBCUs invited to perform; the others were from Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia and Fisk University in Nashville.
The Magnificent Marching Machine paraded onto the South Lawn with infectious energy and dance moves. Their set list included Morgan State’s fight song, “We are the Bears,” which got various Morgan alumni involved in the band’s performance.
As the setting sun illuminated the White House stage, various celebrities performed, including Jennifer Hudson, Cliff “Method Man” Smith, Patina Miller, and Ledisi, Step Afrika!
Hudson captivated the audience with her rendition of Sam Cooke’s 1964 classic, “A Change is Gonna Come,” to conclude the event. The song has a storied history in the Civil Rights movement, and Barack Obama referred to it in remarks to supporters in Chicago after his historic election in 2008.
President Joe Biden, who served alongside Obama, was escorted into the concert by his daughter, Ashley. Vice President Kamala Harris, the nation’s first woman and first Black vice president, also attended Tuesday night’s concert, as did second gentleman Douglas Emhoff and members of Congress.
In 2021, Biden signed bipartisan legislation that established Juneteenth as the newest federal holiday.
“To me, making Juneteenth a federal holiday wasn’t just a symbolic gesture,” Biden told those gathered. “It was a statement of fact for this country to acknowledge the origin of — original sin of slavery.”
The Civil War, he added, “wasn’t just about a union, but it was most fundamentally about the country and freedom.”
Juneteenth marks the day in June 1865 when the last enslaved people in the United States learned they were free after the end of the Civil War.
On June 19, 1865, Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to formally inform some 250,000 enslaved Black people that the Emancipation Proclamation had freed them.
Opal Lee and other activists pushed for years for the recognition of Juneteenth. Nicknamed the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” the 96-year-old Lee imparted some words of wisdom to the crowd on Tuesday night.
“If people can be told to hate, then people can be told to love,” Lee said. “We must get together and get rid of the disparities, and joblessness, and homelessness and the climate change we’re all responsible for. And if we don’t, then we’re all going to hell.”
The event also noted that in 1979, then-President Jimmy Carter declared June to be Black Music Month. Keeping with that theme, choirs from historically Black colleges and universities performed hymns reminiscent of those sung by once-enslaved African Americans.