WASHINGTON, D.C. - It was the moment drummer A.J. Orea has been dreaming about since elementary school--one he envisioned over and over again during his years at Atlanta's Westlake High School.
"I was more so excited than anything because this is a performance that I have dreamed about doing for years ever since I saw Howard perform in Obama's inauguration back in 2009," said Orea, a Sophomore who is majoring in Mechanical Engineering.
The Atlanta native couldn't have imagined his Inaugural Parade debut would come with the pride of escorting Howard University graduate Kamala Harris after she was sworn in as the nation's first female Vice President. Harris graduated from the historically Black university in 1986 with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and Economics.
Recent Howard graduate Malcolm Henry admits, it was a lot to take in when he received the invitation in early January to be one of only two Howard Alum to perform with the Showtime Marching Band during the Vice Presidential escort.
"You really just have to embrace the amount of nervousness that you're going to experience because that is going to be key to being able to perform to the best of your ability under that amount of pressure with all those watching," said Henry, who graduated from Howard in 2019 with a degree in International Business.
Henry and Orea said band members had only a couple of weeks to prepare--a challenge for musicians that haven't even assembled since Covid-19 closed Howard's campus last spring. They started with rehearsals on Zoom the first week.
"We broke down into different sections and pretty much worked closely with the individuals who had the same instruments to make sure that we were aligned and on one accord," said Henry.
After successful rounds of COIVD-19 testing, band members were allowed to return to the campus in Washington, D.C. to practice cadences in a socially distant setting—every day for one week before Inauguration Day.
"We were just focused on perfection. Always just making sure that nobody's going to be missing any beats or dropping any sticks," Henry said.
On January 20, 2021, the sound was pure perfection as the Showtime band marched President Joe Biden and one of Howard's most celebrated graduates down Pennsylvania Avenue into the pages of history.
"It was a great opportunity just knowing that it was going to be on national TV. It's still definitely a surreal feeling," said Henry, who works in Atlanta. Orea, 19, is just grateful to finally achieve his childhood dream.
"I was so excited, it's not even funny. All I've wanted was to say I escorted the President and the Vice President of the United States of America on Inauguration Day and I'm only a Sophomore so there's still more I can do to contribute to the Howard legacy," said Orea.
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