By RICK WATSON
The Homewood High Patriot band marching in the Macy’s Day Parade is as much a Thanksgiving tradition as turkey on the table.
The band, color guard and Star Spangled Girls dance team have appeared in the parade eight times since 1978, which is more times than any other school outside of New York. In the 80s, the Patriot band even performed on top of the World Trade Center to earn a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest performance by a band.
This year when the Homewood band performs on 34th Street in front of the historic Macy’s Department Store on Thanksgiving Day, an estimated 65 million viewers will be watching.
“The kids are very excited about being part of the 85th Macy’s Day Parade,” said current band director Ron Pence. “There’s so much tradition here, and it’s an opportunity to keep the tradition going.”
Drum player Peter Simpson and older brother and trumpet player Nicholas will be part of a family legacy of Homewood Macy’s Day performances.
Their older brothers, David and John Michael, marched in the parade in 2006, and their father, Dr. John Simpson, and his brother and sister, Donald and Mary, marched in the Macy’s Day Parade in 1978, which was Homewood’s first time to march.
“Marching in the parade was a thrilling experience,” said Dr. Simpson. “The gigantic inflatable characters and a chance to perform for the live audience and the TV viewers were incredible.”
Former Star Spangled Girls sponsor Cindy Wade has fond memories of that first parade too, including a 3 a.m. run through. “The Star Spangled Girls wore costumes that didn’t include capes or coats,” she said. “And it was cold.”
She said the girls and the band didn’t let the cold gray New York day dampen their enthusiasm. That first appearance must have made a positive impact because they went back to the parade in 1981 and every five years after that.
“(Former band director) Pat Morrow really put the Homewood band on the national stage,” said Dr. Simpson. Wade agreed that Morrow was not only a good director but also an excellent promoter.
Pence has continued the tradition Morrow started 33 years ago. Nicholas Simpson gave a lot of credit to the director for getting the band ready to perform in New York this year: “He’s a great guy, and we all look up to him.”
All 333 members of the band leave on Nov. 21 to travel by bus to New York.
While in New York the group is scheduled to see The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and to visit Radio City Music Hall and other attractions around the city.
Pence said that 600 people from Homewood are signed up for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner served on a boat while cruising around Manhattan.
Dr. Simpson said that the success of the Homewood Band can be traced back to the tremendous commitment to the fine arts by the school board, the parents and the community.
The Macy’s Day Parade will be televised on November 24, at 8 a.m. central time on NBC.