Queens nonprofit immerses kids in music by recreating HBCU marching band experience

By Elle Mclogan

At the Rochdale Village Community Center, kids ages 6 and up are learning drums, horns and the performance fundamentals they’ll need to someday join the marching band at a historically Black college or university.

“A lot of the students that I’ve had here will go on and graduate from HBCU, whether it’s Hampton, Howard,” founder Larry Carthan said.

He left his job on Wall Street and founded the Elite Marching Band of Queens in the 1990s. Weekly practices culminate in a year-end showcase.

“My favorite thing is that you can express yourself in different ways by doing this,” student Danieda Paul said.

“I just love the music. I love the drums. I love the way, when I hit the stick, it bounces off the drum,” student Carter Jennings said.

Instructors find meaning in watching the musicians meet a new challenge, going home to practice after a session.

“Then, they come back next Saturday, and they actually get it,” the founder’s son, instructor Steven Carthan, said. “The smile on their face, it’s very inspiring.”

The educators are also bringing band practice into the classroom, offering regular clinics to underserved schools across the city. Students at schools without a music program are welcome on Saturdays at the community center.

Kerone Knowles joined the marching band when he was in middle school.

It built confidence. It built discipline. It built pride in myself. It took me out the streets because I had a little rough start in my life,” he said. “This program pretty much saved my life.”

Larry Carthan says art is essential to education and sees a bright future for his students at historically Black colleges.

“They’re great, nurturing organizations. These schools are fantastic,” he said.