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The first black woman to headline Coachella, Beyoncé channels Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, W. E. B. Du Bois and the jubilation and talent from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in her 2018 performance.
It's all on display in her new Netflix documentary, "Homecoming."
What was that experience of excellence, power and joy like for someone on stage during it all?
"It was like our own homecoming. People cheering for each other. Hooting and hollering. It felt like school, and I loved it," said Ari O'Neal, who played guitar for Beyoncé's marching band for the Coachella show and also toured with the 23-time Grammy Award-winner.
In "Homecoming," Beyoncé deliberately states her mission for the performance: to celebrate black intellectual history and culture. And O'Neal says that's exactly what she felt on stage.
"I graduated from University of Maryland, which is obviously not a historically black school," O'Neal told On Point's Meghna Chakrabarti. "But being in the black student union, you know each other a lot, but out in the real world, you really don't get those experiences where you guys can just be together. And it's like school all over again, where it's just black people in the same kind of situation together. Like, it reminded me of a party at school, and I haven't been in that situation since I graduated three years ago."
O'Neal said the invitation to join Queen Bey's band was a surprise. She got the call on her birthday and was flown out the very next morning to start preparing. Despite the high expectations and immense spotlight, O'Neal said "it didn't feel like work." And the experience has left a lasting impression.
"Obviously you saw her work ethic," O'Neal said of Beyoncé. "I mean, it wasn't fully shown on the documentary, but she works hard. And seeing everything that she works hard at, all of the different practices and things, it really made me step my game up. Because if you have something that you need to learn there's no excuse as to why you can't learn it, if she's doing a million things and all you have to do is learn your part."
In the film, Beyoncé explains her vision for capturing the culture of HBCUs: "I wanted a black orchestra. I wanted the steppers. I needed different characters, I didn't want us all doing the same thing. And the amount of swag is just limitless."
Keep an eye out for O'Neal when you're watching "Homecoming": You'll spot her "standing in the middle of the pyramid for the song right before 'I Care,' " she said.
Anna Bauman produced this hour for broadcast.
- With 'Homecoming,' Beyoncé Claims Pop Culture's Throne Yet Again
- 'Homecoming,' From The Bleachers: Members Of Beyoncé's Marching Band Look Back
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