Natomas, Grant drum groups share spotlight with Sheila E. at Juneteenth concert

Sheila E. performs a free concert at the state Capitol hosted by the Black Legislative Caucus on Wednesday.
Sheila E. performs a free concert at the state Capitol hosted by the Black Legislative Caucus on Wednesday. aseng@sacbee.com

The Natomas High School Drum Corps and the Grant Union High School Drum Line played a gig Wednesday night that many musicians could only dream about – they opened for world-famous drummer Sheila E. at the west steps of the state Capitol.

The Juneteenth Concert in the Park, hosted by the California Legislative Black Caucus, celebrated June 19, 1865, the day the last remaining slaves in the United States were emancipated.

Natomas High played, twirled their drum sticks and strutted through an elaborate choreography in black caps, dark fatigues and military boots despite temperatures soaring into the mid-90s. Instructor Floyd Kennedy conducted the 25-member group in full drill sergeant regalia.

The Grant High drum line performed in signature white shirts emblazoned with a gold “G,” in front of a wall of sound coming from a keyboard played by director and teacher James Van Buren. Seven dancers in sparkling gold uniforms added pizzazz.

Drum lines have a storied history in the United States, especially at historically black colleges and high schools with large black populations. The performance of the award-winning Sacramento bands felt a bit like a competition, reminiscent of the band battles held at these schools.

But after their performances, students from both bands said they are not rivals.

Concert organizers said the crowd appeared to be about 2,000 when the drum lines were performing. That number seemed to double by the time Sheila E. took the stage to perform popular tunes like “A Love Bizarre.”

The California Legislative Black Caucus wants to make the concert an annual event, said Alana Troutt, a consultant for the caucus. The caucus picked this year to begin the concerts, Troutt said, because “it is the first time in history that we have 12 members. We have never been more than nine.”

Although the concert was free, the caucus will use sponsorships for the event to pay for the concert, as well as for its African American Leaders of Tomorrow Program. This year, 120 students will attend the four-day leadership program at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Fifteen of the students are from Sacramento, Troutt said.

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