A Brief Look at Over 100 Years of the LSU Tiger Band, "The Golden Band from Tigerland"
Compiled by Frank B. Wickes
Director of Bands Emeritus
Influenced by the military band at West Point and those evolving at other major universities, Louisiana State University received its own musical organization in 1893 thanks to two student cadets, Wylie M. Barrow and Ruffin G. Pleasant. Barrow was named captain of the new group and Pleasant, a future governor of the state, served as director of that first eleven-member band.
Averaging thirteen members through its formative years, by 1900 the band had become an important element of life on the campus of the "Old War Skule" in Baton Rouge. Aiding in that growth were the band's early directors including W.B. Clarke, the first faculty director, and Charles A. Kellogg, the first full-time director and a former trombone soloist in Patrick Gilmore's famous band. Clarke was a music teacher at a cross-town state school. Although blind, he was an accomplished musician and composer.
By the turn of the century the Cadet Band also became a marching unit. Tours of the state and appearances at Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans became early traditions. In 1904, the band joined four companies of cadets from LSU for a performance at the St. Louis World Exposition.
With the establishment of a music department at LSU in 1915, all music class participants were required to perform in the Military Band. The Cadet Band of 1915 marched in numerous Carnival parades including the Rex Parade in New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day. In January the band led the governor and other dignitaries from New Orleans to the battle site for the centennial celebration of Andrew Jackson's victory in the Battle of New Orleans during the war of 1812. It also accompanied the football team to Atlanta for the Georgia Tech game.
In May of 1916, the band led the inaugural parade for Louisiana's new governor with a crowd estimated in the thousands. The event had a special meaning to the band, as the Governor-elect was Ruffin G. Pleasant, co-organizer of the band in 1893. With the move to the current campus south of Baton Rouge in the mid-1920's, LSU got an impressive new home complete with expansive parade grounds where the strong martial traditions of the institution could be perpetuated and displayed. As had been the case downtown, the first bands on the new campus were all military. Primary demands placed on the musicians involved playing for the many military dress reviews and drills held regularly on the parade grounds.
The Cadet Band's role at football games was minor compared to its other responsibilities, but along with the new campus came a new football arena. The band's first halftime appearance was in 1924. By the late 1920's , the band had grown to number more than 100 and was earning its spot alongside the country's university marching band elite. The cadet corps and military programs at LSU were also highly respected, particularly by the nation's armed forces leaders. When Louisiana' famous populist Governor Huey P. Long took a personal interest in the LSU Band in the early 1930's, major changes began to take place. It was under the direction of bandmaster Alfred W. Wickboldt (1930-1934) that the public first took notice of a unique course toward national prominence. Long's plan was to make LSU one of the country's greatest universities. This included making the band "second to none."
In addition to importing Castro Carazo (orchestra leader at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans), as the new bandmaster in 1934, Long supervised many aspects of the band's image and life. He saw to it that the football band traded in its military dress for a more showy stadium look. It was Long who introduced the LSU bands to its current colors, purple and gold. Thanks to Long's determination to have the biggest and the best in the land, the band soon numbered nearly 250 and was indeed one of the country's largest. As intent on showmanship as he was size, Long encouraged the football band to become more dazzling. Halftime shows soon won LSU the nickname "The Show Band of the South." A self-styled songwriter, Long co-wrote with Director Carazo several of LSU's songs, most notably "Touchdown for LSU, "The LSU Cadets March" and "Darling of LSU." "Touchdown" is still the predominant song in the band's famed pregame show in Tiger Stadium.
Although Long's assassination in the fall of 1935 would cut short his budding love affair with the LSU band, Carazo's efforts as influenced by Long continued throughout the 1930's. Thanks to the impeccable style and musicality of Carazo, the band enjoyed a period of unmatched evolution and fame. By the time Carazo left LSU in 1940, the Tiger Band was known far and wide as one of the country's premier show bands. The start of the second world war, however, resulted in changes on the LSU campus that affected the ranks and the look of the band. With so many young men heading off to war, the size of the band was greatly reduced. During the Carazo years, female students had appeared with the band as drum majorettes, but not in the ranks of musicians. In 1943 and 1944, Director J.S. Fisher supplemented the all-male band with female members. This led the way for LSU coeds to become regular members of the marching band.
The arrival of L. Bruce Jones as director in 1945 signaled a move back to the show band values developed by Carazo and the establishment of various characteristics familiar today. The band department was established as a component of the LSU School of Music, one of the few in the south at that time. By the 1950's, the band would continue its reputation for halftime extravaganzas employing intricate formations and patterns. Its celebrity was recognized when famed march composer Karl King wrote the "LSU Tiger Triumph March," first played in Tiger Stadium at the Tennessee game of 1952. The marching Tigers were also increasingly the traveling Tigers. "L-S U" formations were seen at the State Fair Stadium in Shreveport and in Texas, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee.
On March 19, 1958, the band building burned to the ground. Built in 1936, the wood frame structure was a total loss, the fire taking with it the new uniforms, most of the 120-piece band's instruments, and one of the country's most extensive music libraries including many out of-print music collections. The only survivors were a lone baritone horn and 16 Conn sousaphones, which the Tiger Band still uses today. (The current Tiger Band has outgrown the Band Hall, practicing outside for all rehearsals.)
Thomas Tyra, an assistant under L. Bruce Jones, was in the nation's youngest director of a major college band when he was named the 14th bandmaster of the 147-member Tiger Band in July of 1959. With Tyra came an innovation--the Ballet Corps. With a name change and a few alterations in costuming, the Ballet Corps has evolved into today's famous feature unit, the LSU Golden Girls danceline. The 50th anniversary of the Golden Girls will be celebrated this fall during our Alumni Band game.
Following the 1958 national championship season and Sugar Bowl, football fame and success at LSU afforded the Tiger Band continuing exposure on nationally televised games and at bowls. Post-season trips included the 1960 Sugar Bowl and the 1961 Orange Bowl and eight others during the twelve years (1964-1976) that William F. Swor served as band director. Swor also introduced the Twirling Corps (majorettes) to the Tiger Band in 1965. They were eventually called "Tigerettes" in later years.
The Tiger Band program hit its zenith in 1970 when LSU was named the All-American College TV Band in a one-time national contest sponsored by General Motors. After marching the Orange Bowl Parade on New Year's Eve and performing at halftime of the 1971 Orange Bowl game on New Year's Day, the Tiger Band flew to San Francisco. On January 2, the band performed a different show for another national television audience and officially received the All-American College TV Band Award at halftime of the East-West Shrine Bowl. The trophy was presented to Director Swor by Meredith (The Music Man) Willson, confirming LSU's prominence among the country's top university marching bands. It was also during the Swor years that the LSU Colorguard, a flag-twirling unit, was first established. The year was 1971.
Under the leadership of Nicholas Rouse (1976-1980), the band acknowledged a national trend among most high school and university bands and made the transition to the modified "corps" style of halftime show design that is in existence today.
The Tiger Band represents LSU in a variety of ways. In addition to network regular season and post-season television broadcasts, it has made appearances in Mardi Gras parades, at NFL games (most recently many years for the New Orleans Saints), at Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, high school marching festivals, and in the 1988 Warner Brothers film, "Everybody's All-American." The annual Tigerama concerts bring the sights and sounds of the Tiger Band and the LSU Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Winds to an ever increasing inside audience of thousands of music lovers. In 2011, the LSU Golden Girls performed in Hong Kong as part of the Chinese New Year celebration.
Among the famous alumni of LSU's marching band are composers H. Owen Reed, J. Clifton Williams, Academy Award winner Bill Conti, and Emmy award winning composer Julie Giroux.
LSU's marching band continues to distinguish itself. In the fall of 1997, in a survey taken by the Northwest Arkansas Times Newspaper of Fayetteville Arkansas, the SEC Band Directors unanimously voted the LSU Tiger Marching Band the best marching band in the Southeastern Conference. And in 2002 the LSU Tiger Marching Band received the Sudler Trophy, the "Heisman Trophy of college marching bands," as they were recognized for a long and distinguished history of musical and marching excellence. The Tiger Band is regarded as one of the top college marching programs in the country. In the fall of 2008, the LSU Tiger Band won the "Battle of the Bands" contest sponsored by ESPN, Paramount Pictures and Lucasfilm. In the fall of 2009 the LSU Tiger Band was honored by its induction into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. In the spring of 2014, the Tiger Band was invited to perform at the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland. In 2016, the Golden Band from Tigerland was selected as one of eight collegiate marching bands to be showcased at the Collegiate Band Directors Association National Conference, then again in 2017 at the Regional Collegiate Band Directors Association Southern Division Conference. As goodwill ambassadors for the University and State of Louisiana, the Tiger Band is unequaled.
Whether it's a humid, scorching day or a cold, rainy night in Tiger Stadium, pride in a rich past and dedication to a legacy of excellence and musical preeminence are hallmarks of the marching band experience at LSU. The ritualistic pregame ceremony of band, team and crowd is legendary. The recently expanded stadium now seats over 102,000 fans and is one of the largest on-campus college stadiums in America. This coliseum would not feel so colossal, the atmosphere would not be as impressive and the treasured memories of 116-plus football seasons would not be as memorable were it not for the famed Golden Band from Tigerland.