October 21, 2021

Ten Historic Moments in Marching Band History

Ten Historic Moments in Marching Band History

We are continuing to celebrate the launch of our Marching Band program and our passion for protecting the hearing of young musicians. Regardless of where you are--in the band or in the crowd--make sure you get your music earplugs. Hearing protection is so important to protecting the future of your hearing and our attenuated earplugs for musicians allow you to hear the music clearly while preventing damage. You can check out the interview we did with our program director here. Please enjoy these extremely official™ historic moments in marching band history: 

Number One: The Establishment of the Notre Dame Band

Military bands had long existed, but the establishment of the Band of the Fighting Irish in 1845, marked a seminal moment in marching band history. Forty-one years later, the band kicked off the first season game against University of Michigan and has been playing in support of the games ever since. 

Notre Dame Marching Band Historic photo


Number Two: Sgt. Noble Sissle, Lt. James Europe & the 369th Infantry “Hellfighters” Band 


The 369th infantry regiment came out of Harlem in World War I—an all Black regiment who proved their valor on the battlefield and their talent as a band. People often credit this regiment with being one of the initiators of the Black Renaissance. They became famous throughout Europe for their syncopated rhythms and jazz-remixes of the standards. When James Europe was murdered, Noble Sissle stepped in to lead. Jacqui Malone writes, “While white-American soldiers of World War I ardently strove to march like well-oiled war machines, like battle-ready robots, James Reese Europe’s black bandsmen of the 369th Regiment stepped to the beat of a different drummer” Their cultural impact paved the way for a up-swell of Black musicians, playwrights, and culture. 

Harlem Hellfighters


Number Three: John Phillip Sousa’s Mustache

In addition to writing over 130 marches, including the Marine Band’s official march “Semper Fidelis” and the National March of the United States “Stars and Stripes Forever”, John Phillip Sousa also left this absolute UNIT of a legacy on his upper lip. 

John Phillip Sousa's mustache

Enough said 


Number Four: The First Half Time Field Performance- the Illinois Regimental Band (the Marching Illini) 

Even though bands had been playing before college football games, it wasn’t until 1907 that Director of Bands, Albert Austin Harding, led his band to the field during the half-time of the season opener. Thus creating a tradition we follow to this day. 


Number Five: The Band Camp Joke in American Pie 

If you’re of a certain age, there was a moment in time where you heard this once iconic joke at least once a day. “This one time, at band camp. . .” In the movie American Pie, Alyson Hannigan’s character (How I Met Your Mother) is a band kid who repeatedly tells escalating outrageous stories with a hilariously innocent delivery and the opening lines of “this one time, at band camp. . .” For a moment, every kid who’d been in high school marching band was at the center of the cultural zeitgeist. 


Number Six: The Tournament of Roses

In 1890, members of the Pasadena’s Valley Hunt Club Members decided to show out for their family and friends back East, who were all suffering through another cold and snowy winter. At a meeting, Professor Charles F. Holder said, "In New York, people are buried in the snow. Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let's hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise."

The first year, the “Tournament of Roses” consisted of organized horse drawn carriages covered in flowers and driven on a pre-established route. The parade was followed up with foot races, polo matches and tug-of-war. Over the next few years, the parade of carriages added marching bands and history was on its way. The football game was added in 1902, to help fund the cost of the parade. 


Number Seven: Drumline  

Nick Cannon and Zoe Saldana star in this early 00’s movie that followed a New York City teen, Devon Miles, as he headed to Atlanta’s A&T University. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water sports story as he struggles to find his place at his new school and in the band’s famous drumline. 


Number Eight: The Entire Reconstruction Era in New Orleans & The Rise of Second Line 

Without the Reconstruction Era in New Orleans, marching bands absolutely would not have been what they are today. During this woefully short-lived era of Black mobility after the Civil War, New Orleans had a variety of benevolent societies that received support from the city's political leaders. The societies (NOLA had over 226 Black Societies ranging from Knights Templar to baseball clubs), began hiring Black bands to perform at their events, including the famous “second line” funerals. The support may have dwindled when Reconstruction ended, but the culture persisted.  



(source photo: Jazz Times) 


Number Nine: The First Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

In 1924, most of the employees at Macy’s on 34th street were recent immigrants to the United States and wanted to stage a celebration similar to the parades and festivals of their home countries, but in a way that also celebrated the prosperity and freedom of their new one. So, on that Christmas (yep) Day, the store employees dressed up and marched to Herald Square, leading floats and a band and live animals they had borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. The parade, blending the festivities of the old world with the prosperity of the new one, was a raging success. Over 250,000 people were in the audience and it has been an icon ever since. 


Number Ten: Beyoncé’s Coachella Performance 



In her Netflix documentary about the preparation leading up to the performance, Beyoncé said, "When I decided to do Coachella, instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella," she explained of the show's theme. The show drew on the rich history of HBCU bands and gave Coachella the Homecoming it didn’t know it needed. 




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