The Best College Marching Bands - 2014
Seven years ago CollegeSports-fans.com released The Best College Marching Bands - 2007, an article that ranks in the top 5 most read pieces in our site's history. While a revised, updated version of the article has been discussed several times by our staff, we are just now releasing the latest update which is below. In the latest Top 10 bands list Burt Gressler gives us a look at who he views as the best damn and most exciting bands in the land.
Also be sure to check out Burt's 2015 list of the best college basketball pep bands in conjunction with the NCAA Tournament.
The Top Ten College Marching Bands in the Country
No college football game would be complete without a performance from the home school’s marching band. Throughout the United States there is a rich tradition of marching bands dating back to John Phillip Sousa, and across the country there are numerous bands that stand out from the rest. Whether it be for a unique marching style, song selection, traditional drills or dancing skills, the bands on this list truly represent the cream of the crop amongst collegiate organizations.
10. Southern University Human Jukebox – Southern University and A&M College (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) – One of the best recognized and most renowned marching bands in the country, Southern University’s Human Jukebox is a high-energy dance band that showcases high-step marching routines combined with flashy horn flares and snappy turns which create an instant frenzy at any of their performances. Combine those elements with a modern selection of music and you have an instant hit with any crowd. The band receives national recognition annually during the Southern vs. Grambling football game which is broadcast on national television including the infamous “Battle of the Bands” between Southern and Grambling. The Human Jukebox has been invited to perform in the annual Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California, Presidential Inauguration Ceremonies, and has been the halftime entertainment for 4 Super Bowls.
9. Tennessee Pride of the Southland Band – University of Tennessee at Knoxville (Knoxville, Tennessee) – One of the nation’s oldest continuous band programs, the Tennessee Pride continues to be one of the most impressive bands in the United States. The band’s rendition of “Rocky Top” has become a State Song and their “Power T” formation during the pre-game performance makes the band easily as recognizable as their highly-successful football program. The band has performed at Presidential Inaugurations and traveled to Ireland to perform in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in 2007.
8. Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band – Texas A&M University – College Station (College Station, Texas) – While not as flashy as Southern or Tennessee, Texas A&M is still a mighty impressive marching unit and is the largest military-style marching band in the world. At over 400 members strong, the band is actually a military unit, operating as part of the Corps of Cadets and is run in military fashion with band members eating meals and boarding together. This helps to create a strong bond amongst its members and gives the group a unique espirit de corps. The Fightin’ Aggie Band combines highly technical marching maneuvers with traditional-style music, a combination that has landed them several invitations to perform at national parades and other high-profile events such as presidential and gubernatorial inauguration ceremonies.
7. Marching Illini – University of Illinois University (Champaign, Illinois) – One of the largest collegiate marching bands in the country at 350-plus members, the Marching Illini perform in a more conservative style than some of their Big Ten counterparts, but that doesn’t make their performances any less entertaining. Along with their intricate performances at all Illinois home games, the band traditionally travels to other Big Ten schools each year, and performs an annual indoor concert at the Assembly Hall on campus featuring lighting effects, individual section performances and even comedic routines.
6. The Sonic Boom of the South – Jackson State University (Jackson, MS) – Perhaps best known for their fast-paced “Tiger Run On” entrance, the Sonic Boom of the South is a high-energy show band which has been showcased throughout the country. Much like Southern, Jackson State uses flashy horn moves and high-step marching combined with a Motown playing-style and high-energy dance-moves which gets audiences out of their seats and dancing along with every performance. The band has been showcased at many NFL Football events, and was even featured in EA Sports “NCAA Football 2005” video game, providing the theme music for the opening segment. The Sonic Boom of the South’s performances are often so entertaining, that they draw standing ovations from rival schools as well as their home crowd.
5. The Showband of the Southwest, The University of Texas Longhorn Band – University of Texas (Austin, Texas) – Presiding over the largest state in the country the Longhorn Band is one of the largest college marching bands in the country at over 350 members strong. The band is also one of the oldest in the country, being founded in 1900. The Longhorn Band performs a new show for each of their home football games throughout the season and is unique in that it prepares both “Traditional” shows which feature signature music and drill, and “Non-Traditional” shows which feature contemporary music and a modern marching style. Other traditions include the band’s famous “Script Texas,” “Big Bertha,” the world’s largest bass drum, and the “Wall to Wall” formation which features the band encompassing the entire football field from end-zone to end-zone and sideline to sideline. Besides a performance at Super Bowl VIII in Houston, Texas, the band has had the honor of performing at the Presidential Inaugurations of Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Regan, George H.W. Bush and both Inauguration Ceremonies for George W. Bush.
4. The Spirit of Troy, The USC Trojan Marching Band –University of Southern California (Los Angeles, California) – There isn’t much that the self-proclaimed “Greatest Marching Band in the History of the Universe” hasn’t done and it is because of that that the band has not received any ridicule for making such a ridiculously pompous proclamation. Besides being featured on Jeopardy a number of times, the Trojan Marching Band is the only collegiate marching band to hold two Platinum Albums certified by the RIAA, and has performed with numerous rock artists such as Fleetwood Mac (with whom they were awarded the platinum albums for “Tusk” and “The Dance”), Radiohead and The Offspring and R&B and Hip-Hop acts such as Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Outkast and George Clinton. The band has even appeared as other marching bands in movies, playing the role of Alabama’s band in Forest Gumpand the Rydell High School band in Grease 2. Beyond the national stage, the band still faithfully performs at every USC home game and their high-energy and sprit-driven performances get the mighty Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum up and moving every time they hit the field.
3. Michigan Marching Band – University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan) – The Michigan Marching Band has the distinction of being able to perform one of the most, if not the most widely-recognizable fight songs in all of the country at every UofM football game. Rich in tradition, the Michigan Marching Band was actually the first to perform the traditional “Script Ohio” for which their primary rival, The Ohio State University Marching Band is known for. Their signature high-energy performances are highlighted by the traditional back-bend of their drum major and the playing of “The Victors”. In a tradition dating back to 1985, the Otis Redding hit “Can’t Turn You Loose” is played once per season in a special formation which brings the crowd to their feet every time.
2. The Best Damn Band in the Land, The Ohio State University Marching Band – Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio) - TBDBITL. Those seven letters have represented the cream of the crop in collegiate marching bands for over 100 years. Formed in 1878, the Ohio State University Marching Band has become one of the most widely-recognizable bands in the country, largely in part to their famous “Script Ohio” which is performed at every pregame performance, and “Hang On Sloopy” which has become the official State Song of Ohio. Despite a controversial move to fire band director Jonathan Waters prior to the start of the 2014 football season, TBDBITL continues to dazzle audiences throughout the county and proved that they will not miss a beat, debuting a show celebrating the music of television at the start of the current football season.
Gaining entry to the prestigious organization is a difficult process and auditions are long and hard making the lucky 225 who are chosen to be members of TBDITL some of the most envied musicians in all of college bands. The OSU band combined a military-style uniform with a chair-step marching style and highly complex drill moves to create a show that is both very entertaining, and extremely precise in nature. In 2013, the band wowed crowds with a tribute to Michael Jackson which featured the group “moonwalking” in unison in the formation of the late King of Pop. The band also performed a show in which they paid tribute to Hollywood and created both a flying Superman and a walking T-Rex on the field. Both performances garnered millions of hits on YouTube and have perhaps turned another generation onto the rich traditions of one of the most hard-working bands in the country.
1.The Most Exciting Band in the Land, The Ohio University Marching 110 – Ohio University (Athens, Ohio) – Located just 90 minutes or so East of Ohio State University sits Athens, Ohio and the picturesque campus of Ohio University, home to the self-proclaimed "Most Exciting Band in the Land," the Ohio University Marching 110. The OUMB has a rich tradition dating back to 1923, but the Marching 110 was born in 1967 when Gene Thrailkill took over as band director and turned the band into the high-energy dance band that it is today.
Since 1967, the Marching 110 has continued to grow in their popularity, gaining national recognition as the first collegiate marching band to perform in Carnegie Hall in 1976, performing at the Inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993 and more. More recently, the Ohio University Marching Band has embraced the wonder of social media to gain international fame beginning in 2011 with their cover of LMFAO’s hit “The Party Rock Anthem” which generated over 9 million views on YouTube. The band followed that up in 2012 with Psy’s “Gangnam Style” which generated over 8 million views and in 2013 took on Ylvis’s comedy-hit “The Fox” which has over 2 million views and counting. This season the band celebrated the music of Justin Timberlake and ‘N Sync for their first show of the season.
The Marching 110’s shows change at every home game and traditionally include standard marching and playing as well as a “dance chart” which typically a contemporary rock, pop or R&B tune which features an extensive drum break in the middle featuring a dance routine performed by the band. The Marching 110 has toured the United States and abroad under the direction of Dr. Richard Suk, most recently performing in Dublin, Ireland and Rome, Italy in the Spring of 2013. The band’s moniker to be “Better Than The Best, Ever” was even adopted by the University in 2012 as their theme for that year’s Homecoming Celebration to honor former director Ronald P. Socciarelli who passed away in February of the same year. As a salute to the deep traditions and friendships forged within the organization, over 600 alumni returned that October to march with the current band (which is now approaching 250 members in size) creating one of the most impressive sights ever seen on a football field.
By Burt Gressler
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