By Gabrielle Kratsas
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 35 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. The method for creating and ranking this list is explained at the end of this article.
35. University of Arkansas Razorback Marching Band
Known as the “Best in Sight and Sound,” the University of Arkansas Razorback Marching Band is one of our Great College Marching Bands.
Points Awarded: 2
Net Cost: $14,466
With a nickname of “Best in Sight and Sound,” the Bleacher Report wasn’t kidding when it wrote that the University of Arkansas Razorback Marching Band is definitely a show band. The RMB often performs for sell-out crowds at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas and each fall at the annual “Southwest Classic” in Cowboys Stadium when the Razorbacks play the Texas A&M Aggies.
The RMB received the Sudler Trophy from the John Phillip Sousa Foundation in 2006. RMB has played a large number of bowl games.
34. University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band
The University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band is ranked as one of Great Value College’s Great College Marching Bands.
Points Awarded: 2
Net Cost: $14,315
According to the Bleacher Report, “The University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band performs an amazing pre-game packed-full of old school formations similar to those found in marching band film from the 1950’s.” This band is the most visible ensemble in the School of Music and is the largest student organization on campus.
The Hawkeyes received the Louis Sudler Intercollegiate Marching Band Trophy in 1990. Every third year, the band travels to Cedar Rapids, Iowa where local metropolitan Cedar Rapids high school bands hold an exhibition of its halftime shows at the Cedar Rapids Indoor Marching Classic.
33. University of Minnesota Marching Band
The University of Minnesota Marching Band is ranked as one of our Great College Marching Bands.
Points Awarded: 3
Net Cost: $15,589
The University of Minnesota Marching Band, or the Pride of Minnesota, offers a good game day atmosphere, according to the Bleacher Report. In 1910, the first formations and the halftime show was created for the band, including the very first Formation M.
The Minnesota Marching band performs one of the longest and most complex pregame shows of any band in the country, according to Wikipedia. It is roughly 17 minutes long and includes over 75 pages of drill and the tiring chair step is used throughout the whole performance.
32. The Goin’ Band from Raiderland at Texas Tech University
The Goin’ Band from Raiderland at Texas Tech University is one of our Great College Marching Bands after receiving the Sudler Trophy in 1999.
Points Awarded: 3
Net Cost: $13,901
The Goin’ Band from Raiderland at Texas Tech University is known for its pre-game show where it “offers a course in ‘Marching Band’.” This 400+ member band is the oldest student organization on campus. This band uses a mixture of “traditional” and “corps” style techniques in its performances, and it was the 1999 Sudler Trophy Recipient.
The Goin’ Band became the first one to have its half-time show broadcast over the radio.
31. University of Georgia Redcoat Marching Band
The University of Georgia’s Redcoat Marching Band, one of our Great College Marching Bands, was the first American collegiate marching band to tour China.
Points Awarded: 3
Net Cost: $13,287
The University of Georgia’s Redcoat Marching Band has a whopping 430 members and has been considered one of the most revered musician institutions in the Southeast. This band may be one of the most powerful sounding bands on this list with its trumpet line and percussion and drum line section.
In 2000, the Redcoats became the first SEC band to receive the Sudler Trophy, and in 2006 the Redcoats became the first American collegiate marching band to tour China.
30. Western Carolina University Pride of the Mountains Marching Band
Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band ranks as one of our Great College Marching Bands.
Points Awarded: 3
Net Cost: $12,916
Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band is widely considered one of the best bands in the nation for innovative performances, according to Wikipedia. On several occasions, the band has performed as an exhibition at the Bands of America Grand National Championships, among other events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
The Pride of the Mountains was the 2009 recipient of the distinguished Sudler Trophy. Within that same year, the College Band Directors National Association selected the band and four others to feature them in the book “Marching Bands and Drumlines: Secrets of Success from the Best of the Best” by Paul Buyer.
29. University of Alabama Million Dollar Band
One of our Great College Marching Bands is the University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band, a recipient of the Sudler Trophy.
Points Awarded: 4
Net Cost: $18,935
The University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band has been a Crimson Tide tradition for 103 years, and it is the largest student organization on campus. This band won the Sudler Trophy in 2003, awarded by the John Philip Sousa Foundation, and performed at the Bands of America Regional Championships in October 2007.
The Million Dollar Band has also performed at a large number of Bowl and SEC Championship games, as well as Bob Riley inaugural parades and Knights of Revelry (KOR) Mardi Gras Parades.
28. Florida State University Marching Chiefs
The Florida State University Marching Chiefs “never lost a halftime,” making the band one of our Great College Marching Bands.
Points Awarded: 4
Net Cost: $16,737
The Florida State University Marching Chiefs is renowned for having one of the most impressive drumlines of all collegiate marching bands. The band offers college football fans a unique blend of traditional and contemporary marching styles coupled with interesting arrangements that are “custom designed by expert arrangers to produce the famous Marching Chiefs’ ‘Wall of Sound’.”
Sports Illustrated recognized this band as the band that “never lost a halftime,” in 1982 and the Chiefs have conducted performances at events like the International Trade Fair in Damascus and for the World Football League in London. The Marching Chiefs was once the world’s largest collegiate marching band when it surpassed 400 student members in 1988.
27. University of Wisconsin Marching Band
University of Wisconsin Marching Band, one of our Great College Marching Bands, has its own book out, titled “Songs to Thee Wisconsin – 110 Years.”
Points Awarded: 4
Net Cost: $16,131
The University of Wisconsin Marching Band has its own book out, called Songs to Thee Wisconsin – 110 Years , which summarizes the band’s history. This band began traveling to other states as far back as 1915, when the band traveled over 7,000 miles, through 14 different states, conducted eight different performances and made 100 appearances on its way to the Panama Pacific National Exposition in San Francisco.
Throughout the years, this band has received a number of interesting accolades, including Playboy Magazine, which named the Wisconsin Band the No. 1 band in the nation. One beloved tradition among college football fans is “The Fifth Quarter” performance that occurs at both home and away games.
26. Michigan State University Spartan Marching Band
One of our Great College Marching Bands, the Michigan State University Spartan Marching Band is the oldest band in the Big Ten Conference.
Points Awarded: 4
Net Cost: $14,791
The Michigan State University Spartan Marching Band is well known for its march to the stadium, called the “Series,” an extremely intricate percussion cadence used for parade marching.This band has played for five U.S. Presidents, performed at five Rose Bowls, two World’s Fairs, and one World Series, and it is the oldest band in the Big Ten Conference.
The Spartan Band was the 1988 recipient of the Louis Sudler Trophy for collegiate marching bands.
25. Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Marching Band
Points Awarded: 4
Net Cost: $12,187
Bleacher Report dubbed the Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Marching Band “truly one of the best marching bands in the country.” In the band’s pregame, everything is geared toward school pride and the college football game without “extra fluff.” This 340-member band is one of the school’s oldest organizations and one of the oldest programs in the country. Members of the band have performed abroad in Dublin, Ireland, Shanghai and Bejing, China and most recently Sydney, Australia.
About 150 members of the Georgia Tech Marching Band performed at the College Football Hall of Fame prior to the school’s season opener in 2007.
24. West Virginia University Mountaineer Marching Band, The Pride of West Virginia
The West Virginia University Mountaineer Marching Band is known as The Pride of West Virginia, and it is one of our Great College Marching Bands.
Points Awarded: 4
Net Cost: $9,380
West Virginia University’s Mountaineer Marching Band, known as The Pride of West Virginia, is regarded for its high energy performances, outstanding musical arrangements and exciting visual presentations. One of these performances is the cover of Aaron Copeland’s “Simple Gifts” during the pre-game show, which is so beloved among fans that backlash from the fans against removing the song was so strong that the director added it back to the show before the next game.
The John Philip Sousa Foundation awarded the band with the Sudler Trophy in 1997. The Pride was also invited to perform at two Presidential Inauguration Parades and West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin’s inauguration.
23. Boston College Screaming Eagles Marching Band
Boston College’s Screaming Eagles Marching Band recently performed at the 57th Presidential Inaugural Parade, ranking it as one of our Great College Marching Bands.
Points Awarded: 5
Net Cost: $26,335
Although Boston College’s Screaming Eagles Marching Band has 180 members, it is still the largest and most visible student organization on the campus, and it’s open to a few other campuses. In addition to numerous domestic bowl game appearances, this band has performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the Japan Bowl in Yokohama, Japan and the Emerald Isle Classic in Dublin, Ireland.
The BC Marching Band also performed for President Barack Obama at the 57th Presidential Inaugural Parade, but one of the more appreciated performances is a tradition that happens before each game. Members of the band join together as a full ensemble to sing “Amazing Grace” and recite a psalm.
22. University of Oklahoma Pride of Oklahoma
The University of Oklahoma Pride of Oklahoma marching band has one of the best-ranked pre-game shows out of our Great College Marching Bands.
Points Awarded: 5
Net Cost: $16,813
The University of Oklahoma Pride of Oklahoma marching band began as a pep band in the early 1900s, not a military drill unit as most college marching bands begin. In 1934, Band Director William R. Wehrend organized a publicity stunt to attempt the world’s longest drum roll, and after 10 hours, the four drummers established a new world record. All before the 1960s, the band traveled to several bowl games, appeared on national television and performed at locations around the state.
The Pride became the sixth recipient of the Sudler Trophy in 1987, and in 2011, Bleacher Report ranked the Pride’s pre-game show the third best pre-game show in college football.
21. University of Florida “The Pride of Sunshine” Gator Marching Band
One of the Great College Marching Bands is the University of Florida’s Gator Marching Band, which led all of the marching bands at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.
Points Awarded: 5
Net Cost: $14,786
“The Pride of Sunshine” Gator Marching Band at the University of Florida is comprised of over 360 students and has performed across the country and the globe in destinations such as Phoenix, New Orleans, Miami and London, England for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, where it had the honor of leading all of the marching bands present.
This band received the Sudler Trophy in November of 2013. Two of its notable performances were at the 1972 opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. and in the Walt Disney World 25th Anniversary Celebration in 1997.
20. Louisiana State University Tiger Marching Band
Being inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame helped recognize the Louisiana State University Tiger Marching Band as one of the Great College Marching Bands.
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
The Pennsylvania State University Marching Blue Band is one of our Great College Marching Bands, having been featured in Vogue Magazine and during Fashion Week in New York City.
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.
17. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cornhusker Marching Band
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cornhusker Marching Band performed on the big screen a few times, scoring it higher on our ranking of the Great College Marching Bands.
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
Jackson State University Sonic Boom of the South, one of our Great College Marching Bands, was filmed and included in an EA Sport football video game.
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
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Marching Illini was the first band with a website, and has ranked well on our list of Great College Marching Bands.
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 Wembly 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
The Fightin’ Aggie Band at Texas A&M University is one of the Great College Marching Bands and the biggest marching band in the nation.
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
One of our Great College Marching Bands is the Southern University and A&M College’s Human Jukebox, which has performed at six Super Bowls.
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
Two of Ohio University’s Marching 110 band’s performances went viral on YouTube, helping land it a spot on our list of the Great College Marching Bands.
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
The University of California Marching Band played alongside celebrities like Beyonce and Coldplay during the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show, making it one of the Great College Marching Bands.
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
Purdue University’s “All-American” Marching Band is the largest in the Big 10 and one of our Great College Marching Bands.
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
The University of Massachusetts Amerst Minuteman Marching Band is a great college marching band that has performed at three different Presidential Inauguration parades.
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
The University of Texas Longhorn Band was awarded a trophy for being the best collegiate marching band in the nation in 1986 and is now one of our Great College Marching Bands.
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
While the James Madison University Marching Royal Dukes haven’t been around as long as these other schools, the band has managed to accomplish enough to get a good ranking on our list of Great College Marching Bands.
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
One of Great Value Colleges Great College Marching Bands is the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band at Stanford University for its innovative style and wild antics.
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
The University of Tennessee’s Pride of the Southland Band is one of our Great College Marching Bands because of its dedicated traditions.
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”
The Marching “100” at Florida A&M University has been featured by just about everyone, landing them a high ranking on our list of Great College Marching Bands.
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
Ohio State University’s Marching Band performs the traditional and famous Script Ohio, landing the school on our list of Great College Marching Bands.
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)
The University of Southern California’s Trojan Marching Band is popular on the silver screen, making it one of our Great College Marching Bands.
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
The UCLA Bruin Marching Band at the University of California, Los Angeles is our No. 1 best college 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).