Real-life JCSU “Drumline” Couple Use Foundation to Fund HBCU Bands

Frank and La Keisha Johnson

Foundation to Host HBCU Battle of the Bands Tour in November

Charlotte, N.C./Oct. 27, 2023 – Johnson C. Smith University has been a meeting ground for several lifelong friends, spouses and business partners. But for Frank and La Keisha Johnson, it was where they formed their love for not only one another but also their love for HBCU marching bands.

In 2018, the couple decided to tackle a cause that was important to both of them: providing monies for scholarships for HBCU band students and athletes through their HBCU Culture Legacy Foundation. 

The foundation hosts an annual HBCU Battle of the Bands Tour. This year’s tour will be held Nov. 5 at the American Legion Memorial Stadium. The day features a fan fest, which will highlight several local high school bands and JCSU’s IIOS Marching Band. Ticket sales benefit the foundation’s scholarship fund.

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The IIOS Marching Band, pictured, is slated to perform at the upcoming HBCU Culture Legacy Foundation's Battle of the Bands Tour (photo by Gabrielle Isaac Allison).

Frank said his personal story of struggle fueled his passion to make sure other students didn’t have to make the difficult decision he had to make.

“I enrolled in 2001 as a freshman,” he said. “Going into my senior year, my father became sick from diabetes complications. He was a truck driver, and you can’t drive a truck when you become an amputee. So, I dropped out of school and went to work in the banking industry to support my family.”  

During his time at JCSU, Frank was a member of the IIOS Marching Band. He played several percussion instruments but mainly stuck to the multi-tenor drum, better known as “quints.”

After a few years in the banking industry, Frank met his wife when he returned for the annual IIOS Homecoming reunion.

“We’re like the real ‘Drumline’ story,” said La Keisha, who graduated in 2008. “I was a dancer in Blue Satin, and he was a percussionist. We met the first semester of my senior year.”

After the couple started dating and were eventually married, they started an entertainment business but decided in 2018 to move toward a more purpose-driven cause.

“I had a dream, and my wife corroborated it in regard to using my story to help students stay in school, graduate and have a better chance and successful careers where they can leave a legacy,” said Frank.

The Johnsons launched the HBCU Culture Legacy Foundation in 2018 with an initial phase 1 goal of raising and distributing $1 million. They surpassed that goal and are now aspiring to raise $10 million by the end of 2023.

To date, the HBCU Culture Legacy Foundation has provided more than $2.5 million in scholarships and educational experiences to more than 6,300 students. The foundation has recently expanded into the Atlanta market with hopes of reaching New Orleans in the coming years.

The couple says that their motivation to contribute specifically to HBCU band members transcends their own love for the activity. It also plays into creating a thriving culture that the band often brings to HBCU campuses.

“Most of the time, if you see a thriving band on an HBCU campus, the campus life is also thriving,” said Frank. “Students and alumni are engaged.”

Additionally, the Johnsons agree that the band programs at HBCUs are integral to the HBCU experience. They say being a part of the band teaches discipline and the importance of recognizing that everyone plays an integral role in working together to achieve goals. 

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Dr. Tomisha Brock, right, stands by with the IIOS Marching Band ahead of their performance at Homecoming (photo by Gabrielle Isaac Allison).

“We want to make sure that HBCU education continues to be important because there was a time when people of color weren’t allowed to be educated in this country,” said La Keisha. “HBCUs are a safe space for a lot of people of color, specifically Black and brown people. Investing in the band is a long-term investment in an HBCU. It is a marketing and recruitment tool. Band students tend to stay in the band program for their entire college career. By default, it is advantageous to invest in HBCU bands.”

To date, the Johnsons have provided scholarships directly to programs at 34 HBCUs in the country. The couple says they plan to begin offering individual scholarships that students can apply for when they meet their $10 million fundraising goal.

The main fundraiser, the annual Battle of the Bands Tour, is a great way for the public to help meet this fundraising goal. Ticket and merchandise sales from the tour will benefit the HBCU Culture Legacy Foundation, but donors can also give online.
JCSU students, faculty and staff are encouraged to attend the tour to support the IIOS Marching Band, which will perform during the FanFest Event and during a mass band performance at the end of the battle.

The Johnsons said they are excited to hear the IIOS Marching Band perform and said they were astounded to see the band’s recent growth spurt during Homecoming 2023.

“If I could describe what we witnessed in one word, it would be ‘proud,’” said La Keisha.

“Dr. Brock is doing a phenomenal job,” added Frank. “I want to give a special shout-out to Mr. Ronnie Freeman, who actually marched with me. He is the glue that holds the drumline together!”

For more information on the Battle of the Bands Tour and the HBCU Culture Legacy Foundation, visit HBCUCulture.com

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