Merrimack Marching Band Featured in Whitney Houston Biopic

Forty Merrimack students play extras in the new film, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”
Still from the film, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," showing actress Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl.
The Merrimack Marching Band backs up actress Naomi Ackie in the Whitney Houston biopic, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." (Photo Credit: Emily Aragones © 2021 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Despite being established just over a year ago, the Merrimack Marching Band already has a film credit to its name.

The band has a brief cameo in the upcoming Whitney Houston biopic, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” opening in theaters on Wednesday, Dec. 21. Forty student musicians, dressed in their Merrimack Marching Band uniforms, acted as Houston’s backing band in the scene depicting her iconic National Anthem performance at the 1991 Super Bowl.

“We were involved in two different scenes,” said Merrimack ​​Director of Bands Paul Geresy. “The big scene is us on the field being behind Whitney as she sings the National Anthem. The second scene, which was the thing we actually shot first during the first overnight, was a shot of the band making its way to the field, and a wardrobe cart crashes into the band.”

Eagle-eyed viewers can catch a glimpse of the Merrimack Marching Band in the film’s trailer, at the 1:39 mark. Geresy said he hasn’t seen any other footage from the film and does not know how much screen time the band will get in the final cut. 

“It meant a lot to me and our students to get to do this,” he continued. “This is one of those things our students are still talking about a year later. I think it says something about our community that we’re able to go do this after having one performance in the books.”

In August 2021, the talent agency Boston Casting reached out to Geresy regarding an opportunity for a college marching band to be in an unnamed movie. During this time, however, Geresy was in the middle of forming the band itself.

“We existed before as a pep band,” he explained. “We performed at all the hockey games and the basketball games as well. (Merrimack’s) move to Division I athletics inspired us to make the transition to being a marching band, and that was largely supported by President Hopey. This was an initiative spearheaded by him a couple years back.”

Later in the fall of 2021, the Merrimack Marching Band held its inaugural performance at the first football home game of the season. Geresy later sent photos and videos of the band’s performance to Boston Casting. A few days later, Geresy got word that the band landed the part.

The band was bussed down to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough to film over two consecutive days in November 2021. Students were called to set at 7 p.m. and left for their hotel rooms as early as 5 a.m. 

“It was really cold,” recalled Marching Band Captain and computer science major Sean Kelley ’24. “In real life that Super Bowl happened in Tampa but (at Gillette), it was maybe five or ten degrees. Our uniforms are wool and super heavy so it wasn’t really a big deal. Our hands were pretty cold. I do think it’s funny — in the trailer you can see people’s breath.”

Despite the tough conditions, both Kelley and Geresy said everyone on set, from Naomi Ackie, the actress playing Houston, to director Kasi Lemmons were very friendly and accommodating.

“(Ackie) came up to me and another student and she asked us where we were from,” said Kelley. “She thought at first we were some actors wearing whatever costumes they gave us but we said, ‘No, we’re from Merrimack College.’ She was super nice to us and it was really great.”

Since the film shoot, the Merrimack Marching Band has grown from 40 members to 70.

“The fact that we have a marching band, we’re holding auditions for scholarships and we’re getting the word out that we have this great new ensemble — it’s all contributing to our rapid growth,” said Geresy.

Kelley said he’s thankful the College is invested in helping the band expand.

“They give us all the materials we need,” he said. “We get a lot of support here that a lot of other schools don’t get.”

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