(CNN) — Alabama A&M University’s Marching Maroon and White Band will kick off the 97th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Thursday in New York City.
The band’s director, Carlton Wright, told CNN the performance will be a significant moment for the historically Black college.
“This is going to be huge,” he said. “Nerves will be a factor for both the students and for me and the staff.”
But Wright said his biggest concern isn’t nerves – it’s the weather.
“A lot of bands don’t perform in these temperatures,” he explained. “We just have to make sure that we are warmed up and lips are loose.”
The National Weather Service predicts a low of 40 degrees Fahrenheit Wednesday night and a high of 50 Thanksgiving Day.
Wright said AAMU’s band – which is comprised of 256 students – has been preparing for the parade since September.
“The students were drilled like drill sergeants would do,” he said. “Campus sits on a massive hill, and to make sure that we had a good endurance, we marched up the entire campus on the steepest fields while playing, so that they could understand what the test would be in New York.”
They now know their parade songs, which Wright would not disclose, like the back of their hands, he added.
Two years ago, Wright said he watched other marching bands perform in the Thanksgiving parade and thought, “Why not us?” So, he opened his laptop and applied.
“It took me about maybe a month to six weeks to go ahead and complete the application and send it in, because I wanted to make sure that everything was just correct,” he recalled.
Still, Wright admitted he was surprised when organizers informed him the university’s band had been selected to lead in this year’s Macy’s parade.
“I was just shocked that we made it because most bands don’t get selected on the first try,” he said.
The band has a 2 a.m. call time Thursday to go over its 75-second televised performance.
“It’ll be a surprise,” he said. “It’ll be something very familiar with a hip-hop twist to it.”
AAMU said the Dancing Divas, the band’s dance troupe, will also be featured in a special performance with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Wright said the university’s flag corps, Fabulous Flags, will also perform.
Wright said he’s looking forward to introducing the band to a new audience and he hopes viewers come away from feeling joy and happiness.
“In New York and other northern states, HBCU bands are not (as) present,” he said. “This is something that’s going to be refreshing to them.”
The parade, featuring a dozen marching bands, along with performances by John Batiste, Brandy, Chicago, En Vogue and Cher, will be televised nationally Thanksgiving morning from 8:30 a.m. ET to noon, Macy’s announced in a news release.
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