Class Got Brass? A ‘Battle of the Brass Bands’ for Schools

Enter The Contest
Got brass? Passing the brass band tradition from generation to generation.

Got brass? Passing the brass band tradition from generation to generation.

Everybody's saying, 'Look what the Jazz & Heritage Foundation started.' There are 10 or 15 new brass bands that have started since the first Class Got Brass. You guys have done an awesome job of revitalizing the tradition.

Wilbert Rawlins, Landry-Walker High School

For full results of the 2015 competition - including participating bands, winners and judges - see here. For the 2014 winners, see here, and here for news coverage of the 2014 contest.


Medard H. Nelson Charter School took top honros in the 2016 Class Got Brass competition. See here for the complete results.


Class Got Brass was started in 2012 to address two core issues: 1) lack of funds for music education in the schools, and; 2) a lack of emphasis on traditional New Orleans music in the many school band programs that are doing great work despit tremendous obstacles.

The goals of Class Got Brass are to create an incentive for band programs to embrace the joyful sounds of New Orleans brass bands, and to reward participating schools with funds that support their music instruction.

"It was a honor to be part of seeing culture that has been worked on in our classrooms and then presented to the people. I think this competition is a great and innovative idea on every level." - Donald Harrison, Jr., musician, educator and 2013 judge

Class Got Brass is open to middle schools and high schools – public and private – anywhere in Louisiana.

Prizes in the "advanced" category will be $10,000 for first place, $7,000 for second and $5,000 for third. We also have a category for beginner bands, with prizes of $5,000, $4,000 and $3,000 for first, second and third place, respectively. There are additional prizes for schools that don't place in the top three.

The prizes will be in the form of gift certificates from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation that may be redeemed for instruments, instrument repair or other supplies that benefit the winning schools’ band programs. Judges are a who's who of New Orleans musicians and music educators.

Competing bands are limited to 12 members – only one bass drum, one snare drum and one tuba. All other instruments must be part of the recognized brass band tradition. Schools are encouraged to augment their bands with “steppers,” or dancers.

For more details on how to participate, please see these guidelines, and enter by using the online application form here.

Each contestant must open their performance with a traditional dirge. They also must perform an up-tempo song from the traditional brass band repertoire as well as one contemporary song. For a list of approved songs, please see here or the Downloads section below (band directors are welcome to request additions to the approved song list by sending an email here.)

 In addition, each contestant will be scored according to five criteria:

• Adherence to tradition (How much does it sound like a New Orleans second-line band?)
• Originality (How much of their own personality is in the performance?)
• Improvisation (Do the band members interact with one another?)
• Tightness (Do they sound rehearsed and together?)
• Overall presentation (Do they sound good? Do they look good? Are they having fun?)

Our partners at the Preservation Hall Foundation are providing additional resources to help band directors prepare their students for the competition.

There is a resource-rich web site with instructional materials covering six songs in the traditional brass band repertoire.

For each song, there is sheet music to download, with arrangements for all brass band instruments: trumpet, trombone, clarinet, saxophone, tuba, bass drum and snare drum. There are also classic recordings demonstrating the proper tone and style.

Check out the web site here.

Better yet, for band directors who want personal instruction for their students, Preservation Hall will send members of its world-famous band to conduct clinics at schools that have entered the Class Got Brass competition - at no charge to the school. To request a clinic for your school band, click here.

Previous Class Got Brass Winners:

First Place: Landry-Walker High School, $10,000 (Band Director: Wilber Rawlins)
Second Place: At. Augustine High School, $6,000 (Band Director: Eddie Williams)
Edna Karr High School, $4,000 (Band Director: Chris Herrero)

First Place: Medard H. Nelson Charter School, $4,000 (Band Director: Johnnie VanBuren)
Second Place: Martin Behrman Charter Academy, $3,000 (Band Director: Birdell Mitchell)
Third Place: Park Forest Middle School, $2,000 (Band Director: Doretha Williams)

St Augustine High School - First Place, $10,000
Landry Walker High School - Second Place, $6,000
KIPP: McDonogh15 Middle School - Third Place, $4,000

Medard H. Nelson Charter School - First Place, $4,000
Fannie C Williams Charter School - Second Place, $3,000
D.W. Eisenhower Academy of Global Studies - $2,000

First Place, $10,000: O. Perry Walker High School, Band Director: Wilbert Rawlins
Second Place, $6,000: KIPP McDonogh 15 Middle School, Band Director: Kelvin Harrison, Sr.
Third Place, $4,000: Joseph S. Clark Prep, Band Director: Joe Franklin

First Place, $10,000: KIPP McDonogh 15 Middle School, Band Director: Kelvin Harrison, Sr.
Second Place, $6,000: O. Perry Walker High School, Band Director: Wilbert Rawlins
Third Place, $4,000: McDonogh 35 High School, Band Director: David Jefferson

For the complete list of 2012 competitors, see here.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation – the nonprofit that owns Jazz Fest – has a mission to promote Louisiana’s musical culture through year-round programs in education, economic development and cultural enrichment.

The Foundation created Class Got Brass to address a conundrum.

Many, if not most of Louisiana’s schools struggle to afford enough instruments to equip all of the students who want to learn how to play music.

Still, nearly all Louisiana high schools – and many middle schools – have active marching band programs.

But, historically, hardly any of them have had New Orleans-style brass bands – even in this, the only region in the world where teen-agers love their joyous local culture of second-line parades.

So the Foundation established a contest to encourage Louisiana middle and high schools to create brass bands. They would compete in a second-line parade according to guidelines that encourage the essential elements of a centuries-old tradition. The winners would earn $20,000 worth of instruments for their schools’ band programs.

Class Got Brass made it’s debut in March 2012 and was a roaring success. More than a dozen Louisiana middle and high schools stepped up to the challenge.

A middle school, KIPP McDonogh 15, took the top prize of $10,000. O. Perry Walker High School won second place and $6,000. McDonogh 35 High School took third place, winning $4,000.

An additional 14 schools each got consolation prizes of $750 worth of instruments, instrument repair and other essential supplies.

See a video of the first annual Class Got Brass featuring the contest winner here.

The 2016 Competition
Applications will be accepted until March 7. The contest guidelines are here.

The finals will take place in a second-line parade on Sunday, March 20, in Armstrong Park as part of the Foundation’s Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival.

Judges will include many of New Orleans' most noted musicians and educators.

Match Our Funds - Increse the Prizes
Funding for the contest prizes comes from the Foundation's Community Partnership Grants program. Prizes are limited to available funds.

But the number of prizes may be increased - or the amounts of the prizes enlarged - through donations. If your organization would like to contribute funds to increase the number or size of prizes to be made available in this contest, please contact us by clicking here.

QUESTIONS? Contact the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation by calling (504) 558-6108, or by sending an e-mail to: programs (at)



Links & Downloads:

The great institution of marching bands
OffBeat magazine profile of O. Perry Walker High School marching band director Wilbert Rawins, Jr., and the role marching bands play in New Orleans society.

Rebirth Brass Band Wins Grammy!
The New Orleans institution takes home the gold at this year's Grammy Awards.

Five Essential Brass Band Tracks
NPR looks at the New Orleans brass band tradition and gives five essential songs every brass band should know.

Shannon Powell on NPR
Great profile by John Burnett on Shannon Powell, King of the Treme.

Sometimes It Takes A Prize
New York Times article on how prizes have prodded innovation over the centuries.

Protect Your Hearing
Advisory from the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA) on how students can protect themselves against hearing loss when playing in brass bands.


Click the links below to play videos.

Class Got Brass 2013
Class Got Brass 2013
Online video of the 2013 contest
Class Got Brass
Class Got Brass
Mini documentary of the first annual Class Got Brass.
Enter The Contest
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc.