Usher’s Halftime Show: An Ode to the Southern Black Experience

He followed Jay-Z’s advice and did it for the culture

Raven J. James

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From left: Ludacris, Usher, and Lil Jon

The anticipation was great. For weeks fans gathered and predicted the set list; everything from which hits would be selected, to who would make a guest appearance, to the order of the tracks. Millions tuned in, excitedly singing and dancing along to what, for many of us, is like a soundtrack of our lives. And with 30 years of experience under his belt, Usher’s performance may have single-handedly solved the generation wars between Gen X, Millenials, and Gen Z (at least for 13 minutes).

While there were clear elements that paid homage to his recently wrapped Las Vegas residency, such as the plethora of showgirls, and Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatic performers, there is no mistake in saying that Usher’s halftime performance was an Ode to Blackness. During his interview with Gayle King, the R&B powerhouse mentions advice that was given to him by Jay-Z:

“I want you to play the ones that we love, that we know you for. Give ’em the moments that they, you know, look forward to seeing,’” like, ‘Go for the culture.’

HBCU High-Step Marching Bands

The first thing that has to be addressed is the high-step marching band featured in the performance. This was none other than the Jackson State University’s Sonic Boom of the South, and this performance is arguably their biggest stage so far. In November 2023, students were chosen to join Usher during the Super Bowl halftime show, and band members spent the last 10 days in Las Vegas preparing for the stunning performance.

Ethan Miller / Getty Images

If the name sounds familiar to you, it’s because just recently the band performed during Tabitha Brown’s book tour. They also performed at the 2021 Inauguration Parade, as well as several NFL games in the past. The history of the modern HBCU marching band style, however, dates back to 1946 with the creation of the Marching 100 at Florida A&M College. Other schools had military-style field bands prior to the Marching 100. Dr. William P. Foster, the band’s founder, and…

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Raven J. James

Writer | Entrepreneur | Blogger | Dreamer | Pro-Oxford Comma; Feel free to check out my blog at www.serendipityandsuch.com