By Edward Henderson

On Thursday, August, 17, San Diego’s very own Thunder Squad Drumline marched into the prime time television spotlight on ABC’s The Gong Show.

The Gong Show, a reboot from the 1970s, features talented and unique performers with a revolving panel of celebrity judges. Acts are scored on a scale of 1-10 by the judges and performers who do not catch the judges’ eye can be given ‘The Gong’ and are eliminated from the competition.

The Thunder Squad didn’t disappoint under the bright lights, earning the second highest score the night narrowly missing out on the top prize.

“We were still in shock because it was so abnormal,” said Tyra Hawthorne, conductor of the squad and founder of The Heartbeat Music and Performing Arts Academy. “They dressed us up in alien costumes and we’d never been like that before. They tried to make us as abnormal as possible. It was really interesting.”

The Thunder Squad is no stranger to the big stage or big audiences. They’ve been featured on ESPN, and members have appeared in music videos and on movie screens. Comprised of 10 kids ranging from 11 to 17 years old, the nationally-recognized drumline is a program of The Heartbeat Music and Performing Arts Academy, a local nonprofit that provides performing arts programs to underserved communities in San Diego.

“Music has changed my life because I don’t know where I would be right now if it wasn’t for it,” said Thunder Squad section leader Anthony Marshall. “Since I came here, my whole attitude has changed about school and using music as a way to continue my education after high school. I didn’t know it was a family until I got here and they started to teach me how to read music.”

“It’s been a nice way to get out of my shell, said Hazel Marie Jenkins. “I was a very shy person, but I’m not too shy anymore. Performing in front of people and being on a stage I’m more likely to not cower when I’m up there. I would recommend the program because it’s a great way to clear your head. This can be your outlet and escape. And being able to do what the lord led you to do.”

The Heartbeat Music and Performing Arts Academy was founded in 2014 by Hawthorne. The academy promotes scholastic achievement through various programs including music education, music performance, healing through music, lyrical expression, and music production. Hawthorne encourages youth to embrace their talent and creativity as an integral part of their advancement.

The Grambling State University drumline graduate also set up an entertainment trust fund for the students. They deposit funds after they get paid for performances the students can’t touch until they are 18.

“We’re not trying to be the best hip hop studio or dance studio, we’re trying to be the best performing arts academy that really teaches education,” said Hawthorne.

For more information about The Thunder Squad and The Heartbeat Music and Performing Arts Academy, visit http://www.hbmpaa.org/.

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