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Student Bureau

They're Great

The Grambling Tiger Marching Band; Hear them roar

The Tiger Marching Band at Superbowl XXXII, San Diego
The Tiger Marching Band at Superbowl XXXII, San Diego  

February 15, 2001
Web posted at: 8:38 PM EST (0138 GMT)


In this story:

Joining the Band is hard work

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GRAMBLING, Louisiana (CNNSB) Without a doubt, the Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band demands attention when it roars onto a football field. The band has been the guest of presidents, a feature in parades all over the world and a popular choice for advertisers in commercials.

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The Tiger Marching Band's unique style has led to a long list of accomplishments throughout its history.
 

With all the acclaim, the appearance schedule for the Tigers is a bear. When not attending Grambling football games, it answers numerous calls for performances elsewhere in the United States and around the world. Grambling has performed seven times in Japan. The band even performed for the presidential inauguration in Monrovia, Liberia in 1972. Most recently, it was the only band from Louisiana to participate in the inaugural parade of President George W. Bush.

How did it all begin? Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones was the first band director in 1926. He had merely 17 instruments obtained from the Sears and Roebuck Co. But it was longtime band director, the late Conrad Hutchinson Jr., who is credited for moving the band into the national spotlight. Hutchinson was one of the first to believe that a band should continually move throughout a field performance -- marching eight steps to 5 yards at 180 beats a minute. His band was the first to bring timpanis, normally an orchestra instrument, onto the field. The band was charged with energy from the moment it hit the field.

Fans stay capitivated for half-time performances when the Tiger March Band takes the field
Fans stay capitivated for half-time performances when the Tiger March Band takes the field  

Dr. Allen Williams, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and former head of the Speech and Theatre Department, said Hutchinson was a perfectionist who won the respect of both his colleagues and students.

"He was a symbol of what he demanded from all who worked with him -- hard work, timeliness and good music," said Williams, who as the band's announcer had worked with Hutchinson for more than 10 years.

Being a trendsetter continues to be an aim for the GSU band, according to Hutchinson's successor Larry Pannel.

"Some of the trends and innovations that we are trying to use in music here is trying to bring electronics into the band, such as using cordless microphones," Pannell said.

Early members of the Tiger Marching Band await their turn to perform
Early members of the Tiger Marching Band await their turn to perform  

The band is also trying to incorporate new types of routines in their performances, such as Broadway-type dance moves and choreography to songs from movie soundtracks, Pannell said.

"Now rap is a part of the [African-American music] history, and we have to figure out how to coincide dance moves with the new music," he said.

It was the band's creativity and showmanship that led the NCAA to select the Tigers to represent the Pageantry of Bands section of the NCAA Hall of Fame.

The band performed at the first Super Bowl half-time show in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum January 15, 1967. Two more Super Bowls, most recently at the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego in 1998, also included a performance by the band.

The 1981 Coca-Cola commercial that dubbed the unit as "The No. 1 Band in the Land" offered the band another round of exposure. The national television and radio spot became the soft drink manufacturer's most popular promotional piece. The band is currently appearing in Proctor & Gamble commercials.

Joining the Band is hard work

Even with all the attention, band members say it's not all glamour and headlines. Being a band member involves hard work.

Band members report to campus on August 1, several weeks earlier than the regular student body. Freshmen show up along with a cadre of drill sergeants and section leaders. After 10 days, the veterans return to school.

The day begins around 5 a.m. when summer Louisiana temperatures are in the low 90s. Training can last throughout the day until as late as 11 p.m. The time is spent jogging, doing calisthenics and marching at a cadence of 180 steps per minute -- all a part of what the band members like to call, "staples of band boot camp."

Not everyone who participates in "band boot camp" makes it onto the field, however. The band has a current field unit of 128 members at a time, but the number of actual band members is almost 150. In past years, that figure has been as high as 300.

Band members are taught more than just music and marching, an ideology put in place by "Prof" Hutchinson many years ago.

"To be a drum major for 'Prof', you had to know the answers to questions before he asked," said Edwin Thomas, assistant director of GSU's Marching Band and drum major from 1977 to 1978. "He taught me how to make rational decisions about the band."

Another former drum major was all business when he led the band from 1982 to 1985.

"I learned business skills -- how to take care of business in a business manner," said Ronnie Minor, now band director at Green Oaks High School in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Christopher Bernard Crear learned the art of communication as a drill sergeant under Hutchinson in 1990.

"Mr. Hutchinson taught me how to talk specifically toward the subject that I was talking about," said Crear. "You had to be exact when you talked to 'Prof' about anything, unless he was joking, which was rare on band time."

Another former band leader, Paul Washington, said "Hutchinson taught me respect for people in authority as well as people under me."

The GSU Marching Band has come to be one of the university's most important public relations tools. For that reason, when the band travels to other cities to perform, they also conduct high school clinics. Impromptu appearances in inner-city neighborhoods are quite common.

As band director Pannell attests, "Grambling band has changed my life tremendously. It took all of the social environment to change my life and get me out there to do something."



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