The King College Prep Marching Jaguars discuss the Bud Billiken Parade 2017

In 1929, Robert S. Abbott, the founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender newspaper, created a fictional character named Bud Billiken. The cartoon character of a young boy has become a symbol of pride, happiness and hope for the African-American community. This character has also become synonymous with a long standing tradition on Chicago’s South Side — the Bud Billiken parade.

On the second Saturday in August, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is transformed into a lively party that celebrates and inspires Chicago’s youth. Although many celebrities, politicians and businessmen have made appearances on the parade route, the most important spectacle is the youth involvement.

Youth groups, marching bands, dance teams, and other performing groups dedicate many weeks during the summer months in order to showcase their talents on this parade route.

One of these groups happens to be the King College Prep Marching Jaguars. The KCP Marching Jaguars is a branch of the music department at CPS’s Martin Luther King Jr. College Prep High School, located in the Kenwood community, which is not too far from the Bud Billiken Parade route.

The marching band has performed at events and parades across the country, including Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They even took part in festivities in Washington, D.C., during both inaugurations of President Barack Obama. Despite their national recognition, the band is still anchored in its Chicago roots. It has been leading the parade for the last few consecutive years.

We sat down with their Benjamin Washington, KCP Band Director, and Andrea McKissack, KCP Auxillary Coordinator, to talk Bud Billiken history and Chicago youth. 

How long have you all been participating in the parade and leading it?

Washington: "We have been participating in the parade since 2003 and leading the parade for the last four or five consecutive year."

What is most exciting about the parade?

Washington: "The music and energy level of thse students is exciting. The spectators are excited to see them and the students are just as exciting to perform for them. The Bud Billiken parade creates reciprocal energy and joy. It is a family affair and a tradition."

Many students have come through the KCP band program. How have you seen it affect them?

Washington: "We have been doing this so long now, some of my students are the spectators on the sidelines with their own families. [Laughs] We work by our band motto: ‘By education, determination and practice we become prepared for our duties and responsibilities for life.’ Students come into the program the first day and begin learning the fundamentals, but they also learn hardwork and dedication. These are tools that transcend to everything they do."

McKissack: "For the majorettes, dancers and flag girls, we do not just focus on the capablities but with the whole person. We teach them that they are 'scholars first, dancers second, and ladies always.' We help them with their homework, teach them about nutrition, and of course prepare them to perform. It is so great to see these girls come back down the line and talk about their experience."

What can we expect to see and hear from you this year?

Washington: "We will be right behind the parade's grand marshal, Chance the Rapper, so we will be opening our show with his song "No Problems," for sure. You will also here some old school classics: Johnny Kemp 'Just Got Paid,' Boys II Men 'Under Pressure,' along with a few sports-themed songs."

Check out the video below to get a sample of the KCP Marching Band. Catch them on the parade route along with The Jam hosts on Saturday, August 12!