Virgin's Branson leads high school band, prompts backlash

FILE - In this July 11, 2021, file photo Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson shows his Virgin Galactic made astronaut wings pin after his flight to space from Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, N.M. Virgin Galactic says the Federal Aviation Administration has cleared it to resume launches after an investigation into why its spaceship veered off course while descending during a July flight over New Mexico with Branson aboard. The company said Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, it was advised by the FAA that corrective actions proposed by Virgin Galactic have been accepted. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton, File)
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Billionaire Richard Branson said it was an honor and a once-in-a-lifetime experience to don a drum major’s uniform and march ahead of a New Orleans high school band.

But some of the Catholic school’s fans apparently were less enthusiastic about Branson's appearance Thursday with the St. Augustine High School Marching 100 — the band that integrated an exclusive Mardi Gras parade. The band and Branson paraded to a new Virgin Hotel in New Orleans as part of opening ceremonies.

“I’ve had quite a few exciting experiences in my time, but I’ve never got (a) chance to lead a marching band before — let alone the best marching band in the world,” Branson wrote on his blog Friday. “What an honour to join the legendary St. Augustine High School band for a performance through the streets of New Orleans.”

Aulston G. Taylor, president and CEO of the school, tweeted a letter late Sunday acknowledging that many people have told him only students who have earned it should be allowed to wear the purple and gold uniform.

Others felt that “Sir Branson adorning our drum major uniform with honor across his millions of followers was great for the school and sets us apart as a global brand,” he wrote.

He said both viewpoints are valid.

He added that news reports about Friday’s event brought new contributors, both among alumni and “donors who had never seen nor heard of us.”

It also, he said, is the start of “what we all hope will be a long-term partnership ... and one that goes beyond an initial gift to the school."

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