FROM: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/28/famu-band-death-there-was_n_1116678.htmlIn accordance with Federal Laws provided For Educational and Information Purposes – i.e. of PUBLIC InterestGREG BLUESTEIN and CHRISTINE ARMARIO 11/28/11 10:07 PM ETLITHONIA, Ga. — Robert Champion fell in love with music at about age 6 when he saw a marching band at aparade in downtown Atlanta. So mesmerized by the festivities, he came home, took out pots and pans and startedbanging away like a little drummer.His passion led him to marching bands from middle school through college. He was a drum major for the famedMarching 100 band of Florida A&M University, a group that has performed at Super Bowls, the Grammys andpresidential inaugurations. The prestige brought along a "culture of hazing" and a secret world that played a role inChampions death, his family said Monday."It needs to stop. The whole purpose is to put this out there and let people know there has to be a change,"Champions mother, Pam, said at a news conference.On Nov. 19, after the schools football team lost its annual game with rival Bethune-Cookman, Championcollapsed on a bus parked outside an Orlando, Fla., hotel. The 26-year-old junior had been vomiting andcomplained he couldnt breathe shortly before he became unconscious.When authorities arrived about 9:45 p.m., Champion was unresponsive. He died at a nearby hospital.Authorities have not released any more details, except to say hazing played a role. An attorney representingChampions family also refused to talk specifics."We are confident from what weve learned that hazing was a part of his death. Weve got to expose this cultureand eradicate it," Christopher Chestnut said. "Theres a pattern and practice of covering up this culture."Since Champions death, the school has shuttered the marching band and the rest of the music departmentsperformances. The longtime band director, Julian White, was fired.The college also announced an independent review led by a former state attorney general and an ex-local policechief in Tallahassee, where the historically black college is based.
White, who believes he was unfairly dismissed, said Monday he had suspended 26 band members for hazing twoweeks before Champion died. He took heat for the decision, particularly from the parents of band members, andsaid the punishments were like suspending star football players."And so the band members were apprehensive. `Doc, you think we can go without 19 trombone players?" Whitesaid at a Tallahassee news conference. "And other folks. `Doc, do you thing you can do it without them? Mycomment was, it doesnt matter, I am not going to sacrifice the performance for the principle."Hazing has a long history in marching bands, particularly at historically black colleges, where a spot in the band iscoveted for its tradition and prominence. Band performances are sometimes revered as much as the schools sportsteams.FAMU has been at the center of some of the worst cases. In 2001, former FAMU band member Marcus Parkersuffered kidney damage because of a beating with a paddle. Three years earlier, Ivery Luckey, a clarinet player,said he was paddled around 300 times and had to go to the hospital.Champions parents said their son never spoke of hazing. Robert Champion Sr. said he talked to his son just a fewdays before his death and everything was fine."I wanted to believe stuff like that wouldnt happen," he said. "I would ask my son questions. `Is there anythingyou need to tell me? Let me know. He told me, `Dad everything is going OK. Im working, trying to go to schooland practice."As a child, Champion would use a broom handle to mimic a band directors baton. At one point, he designed hisown drum major uniform, his mother said."You put him on a field in a performance and he would give you a show," she said.His first instrument was the clarinet, which he learned to play in the fifth grade. A middle school teacherrecognized his talent and he was tapped to lead the schools orchestra and perform with the Southwest DeKalbHigh School band as an eighth grader. He could also sing and play keyboards.Chapel Hill Middle School band director Natalie Brown said shell never forget his outgoing personality andphenomenal musicianship."He was always smiling. He never gave me a hard time," she said. "If class was about to start, hed get everyonequiet and start the warm-up process. He had the drum major mentality way back then."He was so enthusiastic about performing that his mother would call him "Mr. Band."At times he struggled with his schoolwork and he didnt immediately go to Florida A&M after high school. But heeventually enrolled, balancing a job with school and his band commitments. In late 2010, he was named drummajor."His experience in the band was, in his words, great. Robert was happy," his mother said. "He loved the band andeverything that went with it. He loved performing. That was his life. You couldnt take him out of it."The familys attorney said they hoped a lawsuit would lead to changes at the school and prod other hazing victimsto come forward."We want to eradicate a culture of hazing so this doesnt happen again," said Chestnut. "Hazing is a culture of,`Dont ask, dont tell. The familys message today is: `Please tell."