Golden Lions' marching band, M4, strives for perfection

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions are preparing for an eventful 2015-2016 school year. The team opens the season against the South Carolina State Bulldogs in the 11th annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney in Orlando, Florida. As the football team gears up for the game, so will the Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South – more commonly referred to as M4.

Armed with more than 200 members, M4 is directed by the incomparable John Graham, along with assistant directors Darryl Evans and Harold Fooster.

Graham hails from Little Rock, Ark., born to musical parents. His mother is a pianist and his father played clarinet and French horn. A graduate of Little Rock Central High School, where he was the first African-American drum major, he went on to attend University of Central Arkansas, where he continued to study music and play in the band. He became the director of the Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South in 1994.

M4 participates in most aspects of student life on campus. The band performs for all home football games and travels to most away games. M4 has made appearances at the Gateway Classic, professional football games, on national television and in countless "Battle of the Bands" competitions. The band also participated in the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009.

For the opening performance in September, M4 has been preparing for months.

“We don’t treat it any different than our home games,” Graham said of the game in Orlando, Florida. “Our preparation is the same. It’s perfection; we strive for perfection. We’ve played on big stages, we try to go out, do what we do and do it well, and be consistent with it.”

With the blueprint created well in advance, the season-opening show has been planned down to the smallest detail.

“If they don’t show up to this, they’re going to miss something special,” Graham said of fans and alumni who might be considering a trip to Florida in September.

The pending performance increased the intensity at band camp this summer, as band members endured rigorous training. The learning curve has been elevated to ensure a flawless and entertaining halftime show.

According to band alumnus Joshua Strong, the result fans will see on the field will be worth it. “All I can say is you have to stay tuned to see what’s next for M4,” said Strong who played the trombone and marched with M4 from August 2009 to May 2014 and as a graduate student, works as the band's media specialist, orchestrating M4’s social media accounts and website.

“When something comes up, we will put it all over our social media sites,” Strong said. “We will always get the word out there for our fans to know.”

Tanee Newby graduated from UAPB last May, earning a Bachelor's of Arts degree in Mass Communications and Broadcast Journalism.