Music Revolves the World and Here Listed Are Some Great College Marching Bands
Colleges today have completely revolutionized the idea of a “band geek” into entertainment machines that are competing to be great college marching bands. Those kids who might’ve been considered nerdy in high school while they lugged around their large tubas and saxophones are looking back and smiling as they march onto the fields with the attention of thousands of screaming fans, waiting to see how they plan to shock the crowd next.
Will it be a light show? A moving rendition of Michael Jackson’s legendary Moon Walk? Or maybe the band will spell out a word or image that just may not sit well with the entire stadium. Those “band geeks” are doing all of this and more while gaining national and international attention and while being a part of viral videos that are being viewed over 10 million times.
In saying that, try not to get too jealous that you didn’t take band in high school as you read the following list of the 20 best college marching bands. Or if you can play or are interested in picking up an instrument, the following list should give you a good idea of some of the best places where you can direct your talents.
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20. Louisiana State University Tiger Marching Band
Points Awarded: 5
Net Cost: $7,433
Recognized nationally for its achievements by the John Philip Sousa Foundation’s Sudler Trophy in 2002, the Louisiana State University Tiger Marching Band is comprised of students from all over the LSU campus. This band was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
The band directors of the Southeastern Conference unanimously voted the LSU Tiger Marching Band the best marching band in the SEC, according to a survey taken by the Northwest Arkansas Times. In 2008, ESPN announced that the Tiger Band won first place in a competition amongst university bands from Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and USC, where the bands’ versions of the Indiana Jones theme were posted online for fans to vote on the best one. Finally, the Huffington Post named the band as one of the “Top Ten College Marching Bands in the United States” in 2012.
19. Pennsylvania State University Marching Blue Band
Points Awarded: 6
Net Cost: $24,220
The Pennsylvania State University Marching Blue Band has performed at every major bowl game in the U.S., including the Rose Bowl and the Tournament of Roses Parade. This band is so fashion-forward that not only did the band appear in photo spreads in Vogue and W magazines in the fall of 2005; it also became the first college marching band to perform at a major fashion show when 100 students marched down the catwalk of the 2005 Marc Jacobs event during Fashion Week in New York City, October 2005.
A notable feature of this college marching band is its trademark Floating Lions Drill, where the band spells out the word “LIONS” across the field and reverses the drill halfway through, rotating the word “LIONS” a full 180-degrees. The Blue Band received the prestigious Sudler Trophy in 2005.
18. University of Michigan Marching Band
Points Awarded: 6
Net Cost: $15,850
The University of Michigan Marching Band challenged tradition during the halftime show at the October 2014 college football game against Penn State by utilizing PixMob to put on a light show for fans.
According to the band’s webpage, the Michigan Marching Band was the first to do a lot of things, including the first band to appear in both Yankee Stadium and the Rose Bowl in the same season (1950), thus earning the nickname “The Transcontinental Marching Band.” Michigan was also the first Big 10 band to perform for an NFL Superbowl game and the first recipient of the Louis Sudler National Intercollegiate Marching Band Trophy in 1983.
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17. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cornhusker Marching Band
Points Awarded: 6
Net Cost: $15,190
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cornhusker Marching Band was founded in 1879 and is known as one of the oldest and best-known collegiate marching bands in the U.S. Because of the successful Husker college football program, this band is one of the more traveled bands in the country, having performed at all of the major bowl games. The Cornhusker Band has also toured internationally, visiting Continental Europe and Ireland.
The John Philip Sousa Foundation awarded the Cornhusker Band the Sudler Trophy in 1996. This band has also performed on the NBC prime time series Tommy Lee Goes to College and in 2007 on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, as well as on the Kennedy Center stage as part of the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony. It was also able to squeeze in a few shots on the Jim Carrey comedy film, Yes Man.
16. Jackson State University Sonic Boom of the South
Points Awarded: 6
Net Cost: $10,417
Jackson State University Sonic Boom of the South has performed many halftime appearances for the Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals; a television special for Motown’s 30th Anniversary and the 34th NAACP Image Awards, with a special guest performance by “Cedric the Entertainer.” Just three years after the band developed its theme, “Get Ready,” it perfected the “Tiger Run-On,” a fast, eye-catching shuffle that blends an adagio step with an up-tempo shuffle, then back to adagio.
According to Wikipedia, Sonic Boom is known as “Hollywood’s Band of Choice.” in 2003, the marching band was in enshrined in the NCAA Hall of Champions, and EA Sports filmed the band to include them in the video game “EA Sports NCAA Football 2005”.
15. Auburn University Marching Band
Points Awarded: 7
Net Cost: $18,500
The Auburn University Marching Band asserts that quality of the music, the precision of its drills and the fine image that it portrays have made it unnecessary to give it a more descriptive name. The marching band was named the 2004 recipient of the Sudler Intercollegiate Marching Band Trophy, and it is currently the largest it has been in university history with 380 members.
This band was one of the six college marching bands the ESPN selected to participate in its 2008 Battle of the Bands, and it has marched in three presidential inauguration parades. The Auburn University Marching Band has also recently performed in the 2010 and 2015 Outback Bowl, the 2007 and 2012 Chick-fil-a Bowl, and the 2008 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland. For those prospective students who are nervous about joining such a large organization, this band has the R.A.T. Program, where new members are partnered up with older “mom” and “dad” members as mentors.
14. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Marching Illini
Points Awarded: 7
Net Cost: $16,249
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Marching Illini has a long-standing history with many famous traditions. In 1992, the band was the first college marching band to perform in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland, returning to the country again in 1995, 1998, 2008, and 2014. In 2001, the band became the first college marching band to perform in the London Military Tattoo (a “grand music-marching extravaganza”) at the famous Wembley Arena.
Aside from numerous Bowl Games, the Marching Illini has performed at Disneyland, Disney World and during Chicago Bears halftime performances. In 1986, the band became the first college marching band to release a compact disc and then the first band with a website in 1994. Finally, the Marching Illini also performed at the first televised football game and the first football game televised in color.
13. University of Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish
Points Awarded: 8
Net Cost: $27,025
The Band of the Fighting Irish at the University of Notre Dame has toured internationally to Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Czech Republic, Scandinavia, Japan, Brazil and China, including notable venues like the Sydney Opera House, Beijing Concert Hall and Carnegie Hall. Membership of this band is extended to students at Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College. The band has played for every sitting president and has collaborated with musicians like Phillip Smith, Chris Vadala, Jon Bon Jovi and the band Chicago.
The National Music Council, the Indiana Music Educators Association and Exxon Corporation declared the University of Notre Dame Band a “Landmark of American Music” during the 1976 U.S. bicentennial because of it being the oldest college band in continuous existence. This band has not missed a single home football game since its first game in 1887, and that was during the band’s 41st anniversary.
12. Texas A&M University Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band
Points Awarded: 8
Net Cost: $11,725
The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band at Texas A&M University is nationally known for its military marching formations and for being the largest military marching band in the nation with over 400 members in the Corps of Cadets unit. According to the band’s page on Wikipedia, the band members “eat together, sleep in the same dormitories, and practice up to forty hours per week on top of a full academic schedule.”
This band received the Sudler Trophy from the John Philip Sousa Foundation in 2001 for the long tradition of excellence established by the organization. The Aggie Band has also performed in many inauguration parades for U.S. Presidents and Texas Governors, major annual parades across the country and the dedication ceremony for the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library.
11. Southern University and A&M College Human Jukebox Marching Band
Points Awarded: 8
Net Cost: $11,495
You won’t see the Southern University and A&M College’s Human Jukebox Marching Band dwelling in the past; the band has recently partnered with Lewis App Solutions to create its own smartphone app. This band has been recognized as one of the top marching bands in the country by USA Today, NCAA and ESPN.
Although this band has played at the Super Bowl six times, it is most proud of when the New Orleans Saints returned to the Louisiana Superdome in August of 2006 to play its first home game since Hurricane Katrina destroyed the dome, and The Human Jukebox had the honor of performing at halftime. This band also came into a bit of viral video fame when its members covered Adele’s hit single “Hello” at the 2015 Bayou Classic Battle of the Bands.
10. Ohio University Marching 110
Points Awarded: 9
Net Cost: $19,613
Ohio University’s band is called the Marching 110 in reference to the original number of members in the band, but today it symbolizes the 110 percent effort expected of its members during every rehearsal and performance. This band has played internationally in Canada, Ireland and Italy, as well as at events like Bill Clinton’s inauguration, over 40 NFL halftime shows, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade and more.
On October 28, 1976 the Marching 110 became the first marching band ever to perform in Carnegie Hall in New York. The band has also had at least two performances go viral on YouTube with view numbers in the millions: its Party Rock Anthem and Gangnam Style performances.
9. University of California Marching Band or Cal Band
Points Awarded: 9
Net Cost: $16,655
The University of California Marching Band, typically shortened to “Cal Band”, is located at UC, Berkeley and is almost entirely student-run under the Department of Student Musical Activities, rather than the school’s Department of Music. The band’s director is the only university paid employee. Cal Band’s pre-game show has been referred to as a “stand-alone classic” by the bleacher report. This band is one of only three in the Pac-12 to adopt the traditional chair step marching style.
The Cal Band has its own History Committee, which published a comprehensive history of the band. The band has performed at the San Francisco Symphony’s “Black and White Ball,” as well as for big names like George Shultz and Peter Haas. Some of the band’s TV appearances are Wheel of Fortune, The Ed Sullivan Show and sportscaster Vernon Glen’s Mr. Involvement. The band also has its own Big Bear-Little Bear mentoring program for new students.
8. Purdue University “All-American” Marching Band
Points Awarded: 10
Net Cost: $13,081
Purdue University’s “All-American” Marching Band was actually organized one year before Purdue’s first college football team. This 389-member band is this largest college marching band in the Big 10 and one of the largest in the nation. A TV broadcaster gave the band its “All-American” name in response to the band’s first halftime show with lighted uniforms and instruments.
Neil Armstrong was a member of this band, which was the first unit to break military ranks and create a new formation, the Block P in 1907. The band’s website lists a number of other firsts that the school can call dibs on, such as being the first band to play opposing school’s fight song and the first to create an oversized bass drum. When Purdue’s Marching Band won the Sudler Trophy, it became the first university without a music school to achieve that honor.
Editor’s Note: Due to further research and review, UMass Amherst has been added to this list to share the No. 6 ranking.
6. The UMass Amherst Minuteman Marching Band
Points Awarded: 10
Net Cost: $19,109
At the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the Minuteman Marching Band has long been a source of great pride for the university and the surrounding region. Consisting of over 380 students, the band has performed for Presidential Inaugural Ceremonies in 1981, 1985, and 2001, as well as at Bands of America Grand Nationals in 1993, 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2011.
This band was awarded the Sudler Trophy in 1998 for “the highest of musical standards and innovative marching routines and ideas, and which has made important contributions to the advancement of the performance standards of college marching bands over a period of several years.” Another milestone for the band was marching through the streets of New York City and into Herald Square for the 87th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
7. University of Texas Longhorn Band
Points Awarded: 11
Net Cost: $16,832
The University of Texas Longhorn Band introduced its “sweetheart of the Longhorn Band,” Big Bertha, in 1955, which is a drum that measures eight feet in diameter, 41 inches wide, and over 10 feet high when mounted on her carriage. For her performances at the college football games, she is escorted by a group known as the “Bertha Crew”.
Notable performances by this band include a number of presidents’ inaugural parades, Superbowl VIII, the Today Show and more. This band was awarded the prestigious Sudler Trophy by the John Philip Sousa Foundation in 1986, honoring LHB as the Best Collegiate Marching Band in the nation.
6. James Madison University Marching Royal Dukes
Points Awarded: 12
Net Cost: $14,772
The James Madison University Marching Royal Dukes might be the youngest band on this list, but it excels with its performances, so much so that the band received the honorable Sudler Trophy in 1994. The MRD’s has performed at least three regular season NFL games, one NFC title game and in Walt Disney Productions. It was also the featured exhibition band at the Bands of America Grand National Championships in 1988 and 1991.
The Royal Dukes has performed in two presidential inaugural parades and at the inauguration ceremonies for four different Virginia governors. The band has also traveled to Europe, performing in Monaco, Ireland, before an audience of more than 500,000 in Athens and more. Even country singer Keith Urban wanted to get in on the action and featured the band’s Drum Line twice during his “Love, Pain & the whole crazy World Tour” in 2007 and 2008.
5. Stanford University Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band
Points Awarded: 13
Net Cost: $17,952
The almost entirely student-run Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band at Stanford University “aims to bring funk to the funkless” so much that this band’s Wikipedia page has an entry dedicated to “Controversial actions by the band.” One of the many examples of these actions highlights a suspension of the band after a halftime show at a game in 1990 against the University of Oregon where the band criticized the logging of the spotted owl’s natural habitat in the northwest U.S. The band did so by using formations in the shape of a chainsaw and in the shape of the word OWL changing to AWOL.
LSJUMB is one of the first collegiate marching bands to record and release its music, producing 13 albums since 1967. This band is everything but traditional, wearing rock and roll repertoire and “scattering”, rather than “marching”, from one formation to the next, typically forming silly or suggestive words and shapes while an announcer reads a script that a team of Stanford students writes.
4. University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland Band
Points Awarded: 15
Net Cost: $17,863
Organized in 1869, the Pride of the Southland Band at the University of Tennessee is one of the oldest collegiate band programs in the country and has represented the State of Tennessee at the last 12 Presidential Inaugurations, as well as numerous bowl games around the country. In March 2007, The Pride traveled to Dublin, Ireland to play at concerts and in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Under the direction of Dr. WJ Julian in the 1960s, the band grew in size, prestige, style and reputation by originating the “circle drill” and creating new uniforms, which are still part of today’s tradition. Because of Julian’s influence, The Pride is one of the few bands to use the difficult and traditional chair step marching style with a strutting drum major.
3. Florida A&M University The Marching “100”
Points Awarded: 17
Net Cost: $12,075
The Marching “100” at Florida A&M University has been credited for at least 30 innovative techniques which have become standard operating procedures for many high school and collegiate marching band programs throughout the nation. From the mid 1900s, this band has been featured in a number of newspapers and magazines, including The Miami Herald, which described it as “The Marchingest, Playingest, Band in the Land.”
A 1968 appearance at the AFL All Star Game on NBC TV was the band’s fourth national television appearance. Band members have also been featured in such venues like the Paramount News Film “Half-Time USA,” Super Bowl III, a national TV commercial for Coca-Cola and much more, earning the band most of its points awarded.
2. Ohio State University Marching Band
Points Awarded: 18
Net Cost: $18,215
The Ohio State University Marching Band is often called The Best Damn Band in the Land or TBDBITL. Two hundred and twenty-five students work as the “Pride of the Buckeyes”, which is “one of the few college all-brass-and-percussion bands in the U.S. and is acknowledged as the largest of its type in the world,” according to the band’s webpage. This band is the source of multiple marching band initiatives, like floating and animated formations, script writing, and the fast cadence with a high knee lift. Almost any college football fan can recognize the band’s Script Ohio tradition where the band spells out the state’s name and ceremonially dots the “i”.
In October of 2013 the band celebrated the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s album “Bad” during the halftime of the game against the University of Iowa. This video of this band’s flawless synchronization has received nearly 12 million views at the time of writing this article. Some of this band’s accolades include The Sudler Trophy for outstanding college band, seven Inaugural Parades, a feature on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and much more.
1. University of Southern California’s Trojan Marching Band (TMB)
Points Awarded: 26
Net Cost: $31,189
Nicknamed “The Spirit of Troy,” the University of Southern California’s Trojan Marching Band (TMB) consists of over 300 passionate students who participate in over 350 engagements every year. This band has not missed a Trojan football game both at home and on the road since 1987.
TMB has also earned the nickname, “Hollywood’s Band” because of the number of times the band has performed on screen, stage and with celebrities, including movies like The Naked Gun and Forrest Gump, as well as the Grammys, the Academy Awards, the Super Bowl and the Olympics. In 2013, Will Ferrell even led the band as its drum major at an event in the Bovard Auditorium. Off-screen, TMB has performed at events like the 50th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France, on the Great Wall of China in 2004, a private reception in 2002 for First Lady Laura Bush in Prague, four World Expositions in the last 20 years and more.
Editor’s Note: Due to further research and review, UCLA has been added to this list to share the No. 1 ranking.
1. The UCLA Bruin Marching Band
Points Awarded: 30
Net Cost: $13,816
The UCLA Bruin Marching Band regularly plays for crowds as large as 100,000 with its “Solid Gold Sound”. This band has performed at a number of bowls, including the Mirage Bowl in Tokyo, and members have performed at the Hong Kong International New Years Night Parade in 2006 and 2008, as well as the Ekitopia Festival in Nagoya, Japan in 2010. The band won the Louis Sudler Trophy in 1993.
Although it isn’t too unexpected for a band near Hollywood, the Bruin Band’s website has an entire page dedicated to the large number of movie appearances that the band has made by appearing on camera or contributing to the soundtrack. Between 1960 and 2012, the band has had a role in more than 25 movies; this number is not including the number of TV appearances the band has made. It has also opened for the Rolling Stones “50 & Counting” tour at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in 2013.
Information was sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator Database, Wikipedia, the individual schools’ websites and other “top college marching bands” list articles.
The point system we used in our ranking works as follows:
- Hollywood Affiliation: Hollywood-related performance (e.g. in movies, with celebrities, etc.) (1 point each)
- Awards and Recognition: International accolade (2 points), national accolade (1 point)
- Historic Relevance: History-related performances or background significance (e.g. presidential inauguration, historic celebrations)(1 point each)
- Other Recognition: Inclusion on other noteworthy rankings or articles, videos gone viral, facts about the band become common knowledge (1 point each)
In cases where two or more schools have the same number of points, their rank order is determined by the schools’ affordability. The schools with lower net costs, as reported by the College Navigator Database, received the better ranking (lower net cost = lower number).