The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City is one of the most anticipated events on the calendar each year. In 2022, 27.7 million people viewed NBC's telecast of the parade, according to Nielsen, and an additional 3 million typically attend the parade in person.
Each year, the parade is highlighted by a variety of performers from Broadway shows and musical artists, such as Mariah Carey and Dolly Parton, to college bands from all around the country.
Fourth-year sport and entertainment management student Tiger Thompson grew up watching the parade with his parents. He said he has always understood the prestige of performing there.
“Being in band in high school, I was always aware and wanted to go, but I never really thought it was going to happen,” Thompson said.
For the first time in program history, the Carolina Band, USC's marching band, will be one of the featured performers in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2024.
Thompson, who is a trumpet section leader, and other members of the band said they are excited not only about the event itself but what it means for the band and the USC community to be represented on a national stage.
Jay Jacobs, the director of the Carolina Band, said the formal process for selection began when the band submitted an application to the Macy’s Parade Band Committee in the fall of 2022. Jacobs said the application required general information about the band as well as photographs and videos from past performances.
It was not until the following spring when Jacobs received word that the committee had accepted the Carolina Band’s application. While it would be months before members of the band found out, second-year electrical engineering student Connor Healey said he suspected a big announcement was coming.
“I wasn’t there when we took the pictures, and it was a thing that was being rumored even before I joined the band,” Healey, a sousaphone section leader, said. “And then, it happened.”
On Sept. 9, while the band was practicing its halftime routine at its indoor practice facility, Director of Bands Cormac Cannon published a Facebook post teasing that a major announcement was coming later that night. Cannon, who was at practice, took the band aside after its routine and built suspense about “a piece of news that (they) could not tell anyone” before yielding the floor to Jacobs.
“The moment that Dr. Jacobs took the stand, we were like, ‘Oh, this is something serious. This is something big for us as a whole. This isn’t just an individual thing,’” Mason Collins, a third-year music education student and saxophone section leader, said.
Jacobs then confirmed that the band would be performing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2024 by having its drum majors pull out a commemorative drumhead, an object Thompson said has a strong meaning as the band's signature symbol.
“Everybody kind of knew it was coming, but it was so surprising and so exciting to finally hear the words be said and see the drumhead be pulled out of the box,” Brayden Russell, a second-year chemical engineering student and trumpet section leader, said. “It was so surreal.”
Some band members, however, knew about the announcement in advance. Third-year biological sciences student Maggie Boyd said, as leaders in the band, she and the two other drum majors were told two months before the announcement. She said it was difficult to keep it a secret for so long but was relieved to see her fellow band members' excitement.
“I knew all that waiting and all that preparation had been entirely worth it just to see my own joy when I heard the news reflected back from 375 equally enthused people and knowing that, in just a couple hours, that was going to be reflected to 80,000 people," Boyd said. "That feeling of magnitude was just absolutely fantastic.”
During South Carolina’s football game against Furman University, the band revealed its big news in front of the sold-out Williams-Brice Stadium crowd, which reacted with a loud roar after the band’s halftime performance. Boyd said the moment reinforced the strong bond the band has with the USC community.
"Hearing those words out loud and hearing that cheer echo back from the crowd, I’ll be honest, I started crying on my podium because I realized these people do care about us, and they care about our university,” Boyd said. “Even if they don’t know the inner workings day-to-day, exactly how many steps we took to get here, they know how hard we worked, and they’ve just always been there for us, and we’re so thankful.”
As Jacobs and other Carolina Band administrators work toward funding the band’s trip and building its repertoire for the parade, the excitement builds for individual band members. Third-year broadcast journalism student and color guard section leader Meagan Daukshus said the parade will give her family members from New Jersey the opportunity to see her perform in person.
Rece Howard, a second-year services management student and sousaphone section leader from Gilbert, South Carolina, said it will give him the opportunity to represent his hometown on a national level.
“There’s a few people here and there who get that 'get out of that town' feeling. You get to go experience the world and do fun things, but you’re still that rural South Carolina kid,” Howard said. “It’s like, now you’re actually going to have a chance to show where you came from and show off everything that you learned.”
Russell said this appearance on a national stage could also benefit the band as a whole because he sees it as a valuable recruiting opportunity.
“Not only do we get to build the atmosphere at Williams-Brice, but we also get to take a taste of that atmosphere up to New York City,” Russell said. “Hopefully, we can inspire some people and put South Carolina on notice with all this national attention.”
For some band members, including fourth-year exercise science student Enajah McCluney, performing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will be one of the final activities they do as a member of the Carolina Band. McCluney, a drum major, will be a fifth-year student next year. He said the parade will be a fitting end to his marching band career.
“My first year in Carolina Band was in a COVID season, so just getting to acknowledge the opportunities and the different experiences that the Carolina Band has brought me and getting to celebrate that in one final huge display, I just know it’s going to be so overwhelming,” McCluney said. “It’s going to be such a job well done, and just such a final goodbye to the years and years and the time and efforts that I've spent with the Carolina Band.”
Editors note: Meagan Daukshus is an active member of Garnet Media Group's television station, SGTV.