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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Gainesville’s Eastside High School alumni, R&B group rock downtown Gainesville

Around 100 people attended

<p>Members of the Richard E. Parker Alumni Band of Eastside High School perform across Bo Diddley Plaza Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.</p>

Members of the Richard E. Parker Alumni Band of Eastside High School perform across Bo Diddley Plaza Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.

Upon spotting the band’s bright orange uniforms, Gainesville residents cheered, scattered across Bo Diddley Plaza.

Some women screamed out “Eastside!” Others began recording the group.

The Richard E. Parker Eastside Alumni Band excited the crowd in a brief, but passionate performance as part of the city’s concert Friday. The alumni band, as well as R&B group 24/7,  played from 6:30-9 p.m. in part of a series of events the city is holding this year for Black History Month.

While the alumni group played for a short 20 minutes, audience members were left excited and wanting more.Rachel Bishop, a 24-year-old Eastside alumna who played in high school, said seeing the

alumni’s influence on the community is a powerful experience.“It’s always really cool to see them and know that even in some super minor way I got to be a part of that legacy,” Bishop said.

The band is deeply tied to integration and racial injustice within the city. 

Eastside High was one of the first integrated high schools in Gainesville, and its original band director, Richard E. Parker, established a culture of pride around the band that spread across racial boundaries.

One of the hallmarks of the band was its performance style. Instead of the rigid, military-esque corps style typical of high school bands, Eastside danced, swinging instruments in fluid choreography. 

While decades passed since the band’s first performance in 1970, Eastside alumni showed out in the same style, showcasing fancy footwork and rhythm Friday.

Cathay Norman, the clarinet player for the Eastside Alumni Band, said due to their busy schedules, members of the band only rehearsed once before the event. The band mainly still plays to bring positivity to the city, she said.

“When I say the community misses it, they really do,” Norman said, “Those orange and green colors really mean something.”

When Eastside Alumni Band wasn’t on stage, R&B group 24/7 was, performing covers of Janet Jackson, Gnarls Barkley and more. The group used synthesizers, keyboards, electric guitars and a talkbox, among other instruments.

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While it formed in 2020, the band has become a recent staple of downtown Gainesville performances, playing at the city’s New Year's celebration.

Javell Woods, leader of 24/7, said Gainesville is always fun to perform in because of its diversity and love for local music.“It’s cool because you see people from all walks of life out here,” she said.

The event was part of a larger celebration of Black History Month, with the county’s Poet Laureate E. Stanley Richardson reading a piece toward the end of the concert.

Aside from art showcases and exhibits, the city also focused on historic awareness with the nonprofit organization Evergreen Cemetery Association of Gainesville. Evergreen Cemetery plans to spend the month posting the contributions and legacies of Black people buried there.

Carol Richardson, acting cultural affairs manager for Gainesville, said the city showcases minority culture year-round, but the month offers a spotlight on Black cultural history.

“Black History Month gives us the opportunity for all eyes on us, so to speak,” she said.

The Richard E. Parker Eastside Alumni Band will next perform alongside Eastside’s current band Feb. 27. 24/7 will perform again in the coming months and at the Senior Recreation Center April 15.

Band member Norman hoped the local commitment to music would positively inspire Gainesville’s youth.“Band is a way out for some of them,” she said. ”To be able to do something else in life.” 

Contact Aidan Bush at abush@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @aidandisto.

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Aidan Bush

Aidan Bush is a third-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Engagement Managing Editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he likes to listen to music and go kayaking.


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