Cameron Eaton - X-Generation

X-Generation bandleader Cameron Eaton remembers his first day of intensive rehearsals with the North Carolina A&T marching band--known as the Blue and Gold Marching Machine--as the culmination of years of musical training. "We were all wearing blue and gold," he recalls. "Everybody was of the same accord."

The director stood in front of the band, and he gave a prep before the first song. The song that first day was called "Salvation is Created." He put his hands up and it was one, two, three--breathe--play. And when we played that first downbeat, I was so astonished. It was like a wall of sound flowing through my body. That's the one thing that stands with me now. It hooked me. I felt like I had a reason and purpose in life at that point. That was the beginning of my musical breakthrough. It was like, "OK, this is what I want to do. This is what I really like. It was a deep connection.

A native of Henderson, Cameron Eaton picked up his first instrument--a toy xylophone--at the age of three. By the time he was six years old, he was playing piano and singing in the church and at home. "I always heard music," says Eaton. "When I was playing, I would hear music chiming in my ear. It was always something that was with me, whether I had an instrument or not."

In elementary school, the young musician began to play the flutophone; by middle school, he graduated to brass instruments, beginning with the trumpet and eventually cycling through the euphonium, baritone trumpet, and tuba. "Basically, I tried to play everything," Eaton laughs.

It was in high school that Eaton immersed himself fully in music, improving his compositional skills and convening with other young musicians to jam. He explains that he always had a soulful connection to music. "Music comforted me in so many ways," says Eaton. "When I was going through troubles, I would listen to music or play music or go somewhere and sing. Music was a big part of my life in high school." It was also at this time that Eaton began to learn about North Carolina's rich African American marching band tradition, and resolved to attend college. In 2002, Eaton enrolled as a music major at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro.

Eaton explains that his college marching band trained intensively, often from four in the morning until midnight. "People would say, 'You people at A&T are crazy. You practice harder than the football team.' And I believe we did," he remembers. "It was a very physical thing."

Upon graduation, Eaton returned to Vance County, where he began volunteering with the band program at the local middle school. At the same time, he began collecting instruments--including drums and horns--in hopes of putting together a community group to give Henderson's disenfranchised youth something to do. After inheriting the directorship of a local drill team in 2008, Eaton began to work with the kids, molding them in the image of North Carolina's great black marching bands. He explains that his group, which he christened X-Generation, started with only three members; its ranks soon swelled to well over two dozen.

Eaton is proud of the band's achievements. Since the inception of X-Generation, Eaton has led the band in Henderson's annual Christmas parade, and has traveled to Durham to take part in the Martin Luther King, Jr., celebration.

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