Marching to China

Featured Audio

The Shaw High School Mighty Cardinal Marching Band has gotten national recognition for its percussive playing and high-stepping look. It's a style that was developed almost 40 years ago by a 20-something band director who brought it to East Cleveland from Tennessee.

ALVIN FULTON: It was an African American tradition that the South used, but the North knew nothing about.

DCB: Alvin Fulton says that black colleges such as Florida A&M… Grambling… and North Carolina State all fielded flashy marching bands, noted for their entertaining dance routines. All he did was apply that Southern sensibility to his Shaw students.

ALVIN FULTON: As a matter of fact, I would take some of the leaders from the Shaw marching band and we would go down during the summer and watch some of these universities practice, and then we would steal their ideas and bring them back up to Shaw High School.

DCB: Under Alvin Fulton's direction, the band grew from 28 to over 200 members, establishing a musical tradition that's still very much alive under the direction of Donshon Wilson, who vividly recalls the sounds of the Shaw band echoing through the streets when he was in fourth grade.

DONSHON WILSON: The drummers back then, under Fulton, they always had this swagger about themselves. As little boys in the neighborhood, we used to strap on buckets with belts and pretend we were the drum line at Shaw High School.

DCB: Wilson graduated from Shaw 20 years ago, but he doesn't look that much older than his young charges. Still, there's a quiet dignity about him that commands respect --- even from the cut-ups like Ray, who's known among the other players for his imitation of the man that they all call "Mr. Wilson".

RAY: I love Mr. Wilson. I might mock him, but it's my way of letting him know that I listen to him and I know where he's coming from.

DCB: A good part of the world will now know where the Shaw band comes from when the group plays with some international peers during pre-Olympics festivities in Beijing. For the past several weeks, the students have been given a crash course in Chinese culture…etiquette …and even sampling some of the food they're likely to encounter. Sierra says most of it was pretty tasty.

SIERRA: I liked it, but it was really different from what I'm used to having. Sweet and Sour chicken and barbecued pork.

DCB: But, she and Jason weren't too enthusiastic about the sugar dumplings, because they weren't fried.

JASON: It was hard and uncooked to me. It might have been boiled. It just was very different. I wasn't used to it.

ALVIN FULTON: What Donshon is doing right now, he is educating the kids to the Chinese culture so that the kids will know how to respond.

DCB: As Shaw's former musical director, Alvin Fulton says he's happy that so much attention is being given to the march that the Mighty Cardinals are making to China, but he says there's more to Shaw High School than a lively halftime show. And more to East Cleveland than headlines about poverty and crime.

ALVIN FULTON: The people over there are trying to do the best with what they have to work with. And I can look at it, after working there many years, and say they are doing a pretty good job. But, we have a long ways to go.

DCB: Right now, a crew of kids and their chaperons are going to take a long flight to China, heading into a culture that is very different from what they've grown-up with in East Cleveland. But, culture shock can work two ways. So, get ready Beijing, 'cause here they come.

MUSIC: Shaw band playing the Temptations' "Get Ready" UP & OUT

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