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Morgan State’s Marching Band Welcomes First Woman Drum Major In Decades

Morgan State’s Marching Band Welcomes First Woman Drum Major In Decades

They’re doing big things!

Morgan State University’s Magnificent Marching Machine marching band welcomes its first woman drum major in decades, The Spokesman reports.

The Baltimore HBCU has been in the news a lot lately, hitting historic milestones and cementing its legacy for another 150 years while doing so. Last year, Morgan State was one of four Maryland HBCUs that won a 15-year lawsuit against the state for inadequate funding. As a result, the University will receive upwards of $50 million annually over the course of a decade starting next year. 

“This settlement marks a historic investment in Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It will enable these valued institutions to expand their academic reach and to assist thousands of students with getting the education they deserve,” said Attorney General Brian Frosh.

The windfall marked a shift for HBCUs in the state of Maryland, ensuring that they will be able to even the playing field and provide adequate facilities, training, and education for their students like their PWI counterparts.

Earlier that year, Morgan State alumnus Calvin E. Tyler and his wife Tina donated $20 million to the school to create the "Calvin and Tina Tyler Endowed Scholarship," the largest private donation from an alumnus in the school’s 150+ year history. 

David K. Wilson, president of Morgan State, spoke about the donation, saying, "Morgan is so proud to call the son and daughter of the great City of Baltimore our own. Through their historic giving, the doors of higher education will most certainly be kept open for generations of aspiring leaders whose financial shortfalls may have kept them from realizing their academic dreams."

The couple first established the scholarship in 2002, focusing on providing full tuition for students in need. In 2006, they upped their commitment to $5 million, in what was at the time the largest private donation from an alum. Now they’ve done it again, this time emphasizing their desire to do their part to help the next generation of Morgan graduates. Taking into account the looming debt crisis coupled with the struggles of the pandemic, the Tylers felt now was as good a time as any to make another sizable contribution. 

"My wife and I have become keenly aware of the effect that the pandemic has had on a number of young people trying to get an education [and] we have the resources to help a lot of young people. This is why we are increasing our commitment at Morgan; we want to have more full-tuition scholarships offered to young people so that they can graduate from college and enter the next stage of their life debt-free," Tyler told reporters. 

That fall, the university made history as the only HBCU to offer Division 1 wrestling after receiving another hefty private donation from a partnership between HBCU Wrestling and billionaire and former hedge fund manager Mike Novogratz.

"Morgan as an institution is predicated on expanding opportunities, promoting equity, and creating access, and by way of this generous gift, we will be able to resurrect a program that opened the door for so many young men to bask in the promise and experience the magic of education,” said President Wilson. Historically, Morgan has served as home to a nationally competitive, championship-caliber wrestling program, producing numerous national champions in the sport. “We embrace this opportunity of being the only HBCU nationwide offering a D₁ varsity wrestling program, and we invite those seeking a competitive athletic experience in this sport, and a world-class education, to consider Morgan State University," he continued.

With all of MSU’s good fortune, the school has been committed to paying it forward this year, recently announcing the opening of a new medical school in partnership with Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital. The for-profit, private medical school is set to open in 2024 with a focus on community care, Morgan State making history as the first historically Black college or university to open a new medical school in 45 years

“It’s going to have a strong emphasis on population health. That means we don’t just fix a problem when it becomes a medical issue, we work within communities to prevent problems,” said Jon D’Souza, Ascension St. Agnes’ Chief Medical Officer.

Now the Bears are back in the news and making headlines again, just in time for homecoming. The school just announced that its Magnificent Marching Machine has welcomed its second female drum major in the history of the school. 

Angel Mitchell started her musical career in the third grade, learning to play the clarinet. She went on to become a drum major in her high school band, keenly aware that the role usually belongs to her male peers. Now a senior health education major at Morgan State and a member of the marching band, Mitchell never dreamed she’d be making history at the school. During band camp this past summer, Mitchell was selected as a candidate for the drum major. Now she has been confirmed, making history as Morgan’s first woman co-drum major in more than five decades. 

“[When the band director told me I was selected for the position] I was like no way, that never happens. You all are playing with me,” Mitchell told reporters. 

She is now one of three co-drum majors alongside the head drum major under the newly inducted MSU band director, Jorim E. Reid.

Everyone is excited about Mitchell’s historic feat, including head drum major and senior music major Tory James who says she’s perfect for the position. 

“You can look at old videos of her in the clarinet section. She was always one of the hardest marchers in the section,” said James. 

In addition to her skill, James believes Mitchell’s personality will get her far and help to move the band forward in a positive direction. 

Fellow co-drum major Travis Jones, a senior electrical engineering student, says it’s the drum major's job to help bring the band director’s vision to life, something he believes they’ll all be able to do together. Mitchell and Jones had a friendship before their appointments as co-drum majors and it is that chemistry and bond between the two that Jones said helps them stand out during performances. 

“Angel brings energy. She brings high praise and high quality. She knows how to connect with the band. She’s such a caring person,” said Jones. 

While Mitchell is the first woman in recent memory to hold the coveted position in the Magnificent Marching Machine, she is not the first. Morgan’s former director of nearly 50 years, Melvin Miles, said he recalls speaking to a woman claiming to be MSU’s first drum major almost 70 years ago. Besides Miles' memory and a 1956 graduation photo, there is no actual record of the elusive first woman drum major. 

“At this time, my recollection is probably not very helpful because I do not remember the person’s name,” Miles told reporters. 

Morgan State’s Magnificent Marching Band welcomes first woman drum major in decades. Morgan’s first drum major circa 1956. Photo Courtesy of The Spokesman/Getty Images.


Tyrone Fowlkes, another of Mitchell’s co-drum majors, said that having a woman drum major is not new to him, and he doesn’t believe gender should be a factor in choosing a good drum major. Fowlkes served under a woman drum major in his high school band and feels like Morgan should’ve been appointed a woman drum major before now. 

“I do think it’s time for Morgan to change. Angel is the perfect fit for the direction that Morgan is trying to go into not only as a band but as a university,” said Fowlkes.

Their band director agreed, saying he consulted with past Magnificent Marching Machine drum majors before the collective ultimately decided on Mitchell as the best fit. 

“All of the drum majors embody the qualities of work, dedication and sacrifice needed to fill that position,” said Reid. 

Angel will be performing just in time for Morgan State’s homecoming, taking place October 1st-9th!

Morgan State’s Magnificent Marching Band welcomes first woman drum major in decades. Photo Courtesy of Jordan D. Brown/The Spokesman.