Shaw High School Marching Band: 20 Years of Excellence
Written by Tyisha Blade // Photos courtesy of Gabrielle Ross
Each year, organization Music Through the Streets hosts the Battle of the Bands as a community event showcasing the talents of marching bands both locally and out-of-state. High school marching bands compete to win trophies and bragging rights, of course. This year marks the event’s 20th anniversary. To honor this event, The Vindicator interviewed Shaw High School’s Band Director, Donshon Wilson and Percussion Director, Chavone Nash. Wilson is an administrator in the East Cleveland City School District. Formerly the administrator of communications, Wilson has been promoted to the director of communications and technology. With many initiatives for the East Cleveland community, Wilson continues to exhibit marching band excellence while embracing a community. Both Wilson and Nash shared with The Vindicator their commitment to the event and what the annual Battle of the Bands means to the community.
Vindicator: How did the BOTB get started?
Wilson: Embarking on 20 years of excellence and musical bliss, we came about as I was invited to a competition in Michigan. At that particular time in 2000, we were still trying to establish fundraising ideas. I got the idea from the schools in Michigan as they were supporting one another for their competition [Shaw] was a part of. So, I decided to bring the idea to Cleveland. I got with a few of the band directors here at the time [such as] Warrensville with Sam Stevensen and John F. Kennedy with Osmond Fisher. I talked to them about it, and they decided, “Hey, you should do the first one.” I did the first one and here we are 20 years later.
Vindicator: How long does this take to plan? Do you have partners?
Wilson: Each year, the event has gotten bigger. When we first started, we were only looking at spectators of about a couple hundred people, no more than 500. The first year, because of the grad-school marketing that we did, we had a sold-out crowd. There were a couple hundred people that couldn’t get in by way of the fire marshall saying that they couldn't get it in because we were over capacity. Every year after that, I had to start planning for a new venue because [Shaw] stadium couldn’t hold everybody. I found Wolstein Center and it was able to accommodate a crowd. We were there for several years. We came back to the [East Cleveland] city because I was getting complaints about it being a community event and wanting it [in East Cleveland] so, we moved it back. I have pretty much been a one-man-show with my booster parents. We haven’t had any sponsors with the exception of the last few years, being the Famicos Foundation. They have been supporting our efforts with Music Through the Streets which became a non-profit organization in 2007. We are still looking for corporate sponsors to help out with this phenomenal event.
Vindicator: What was the line-up of events for the 2019 BOTB?
Wilson: It was a two-day event this year. We had the gym battle event that Friday at Shaw gymnasium... We had two HBCU universities, Central State and Kentucky State University. They gave musical displays in the stands that were presented in their field show that Saturday at the competition. We also had 10 high schools for the competition. These high schools [were in competition] for the grand trophy. Competitors for the small division were Woodward High School, Warrensville High School and River Rouge High School. [In] the second division, we had Trotwood Madison High School, Maple Heights High School and Hunters Lane High School. In our big division, we had Euclid High School, Oakpark High School, Southfield A&T and Hardy Painsville. Shaw Band [does not compete]. We’ve always been the host band for the event. [Shaw] performs last.
Vindicator: Why do you continue to do this?
Wilson: To give the [current] students exposure for their talents, gifts and the things they have worked so hard at. Also, it’s a fundraiser for inner-city youth. We are able to help those inner-city youth with what they need financially and academically. We’ve continued to keep students in college by providing for them what they need, whether it’s travel to and from a university; whether its books; [or report cards]. We have provided [the students] with hundred dollar gift cards so that they can get hygiene products, underwear, houseshoes, t-shirts or whatever it is to accomodate what they need to stay in the colleges and universities. We have also helped families out financially. Whether it’s food or resources, we try to help out.
Vindicator: What do you think this means for the alumni?
Wilson: For the alumni from Shaw High School, it gives them a chance to reflect back on when they were in school and some of the great things they did. Music Through the Streets and the alumni from the marching band have saved a lot of lives. We have guided students in the right direction. It continues to be an impactful institution. We have been able to touch a lot of lives.
Vindicator: What are some highlights?
Wilson: Support Music Through the Streets. Again, we are looking for sponsorships for next year. This is an annual event. This is 20 years of service to the community.
For Wilson, his most memorable BOTB was the first one in 2000. “I didn’t know what to expect for the first turn out that we had,” he said. “Just to look up in the audience and see children, parents and grandparents; to see the connectivity, it’s just amazing. That's what really keeps my drive going.”
As a part of the 20th anniversary celebration, the marching band alumni surprised Wilson with a party to honor his contributions to the community. Spearheaded by Nash and Aaryn Green, Ph.D., the party was a complete success and many alumni, both local and out-of-state donated to and attended the event. The surprise party not only commemorated the contributions of Wilson and the band alumni but also highlighted a living legacy. Nash, who accepted the position as percussion instructor in October of 2013, shared with The Vindi some planning details for the party.
Vindicator: How was planning for the surprise party?
Nash: So, the party was at the 4 Bistro in South Euclid. We had to plan venue selection, menu selection and raise funds to pay for the party. We also had to choose a caterer and a cake selection. We went with Gourmet Girl, who made the cake for my wedding. Her cake was the bomb! Fundraising was the most difficult part, along with keeping it a surprise. [The alumni] raised over $1,500 for the event. We were able to donate the rest [of the money] to Music Through the Streets.
Vindicator: How did you get Mr. Wilson to come to the party?
Nash: It was Dr. Green’s birthday weekend. She did a lot with me as far as planning the event. So we had to guilt-trip him, like, ‘hey, she spent her whole weekend here helping plan for the [BOTB], now she’s tired. You should just go out with us after the gym battle.’ So, we convinced him to come even though he really didn’t want to go, and that’s how we got him there.
Vindicator: What was his reaction?
Nash: He was very surprised. A few times, we thought we let it slip. He assured us that he had no idea what was going on. We actually kicked him out of our Facebook Alumni group page. We had a whole plan on what we were going to do if he found out he was kicked out. He never realized he was out, he never had any idea! He was so surprised. He cried and he was very excited… The day after the party we added him back [to the Facebook page].
Vindicator: Do you have anything special that you would like to add for the readers?
Nash: The party was a museum of him. We had frames set up throughout the venue where [attendees] could follow his career with the marching band. We also had a donor’s board set up so [Mr. Wilson] could see all the people who contributed to the surprise event. 20 years is something amazing for anything, specifically for the BOTB; nobody usually has 20 of them consecutively. That’s a big deal. He is a person who is very modest. He doesn’t celebrate himself, we wanted to make sure that we celebrated him.