Marching Band History

The University of Tennessee Marching Band, known as the “Pride of the Southland,” has represented The University of Tennessee and the State of Tennessee since its initial organization following the Civil War. What began as a small all-male band attached to the Military Department on the Knoxville campus has grown to a 300-member university marching band known worldwide for its outstanding musical performance and precision marching. It is also one of the oldest and prestigious collegiate band programs in the country.

The University of Tennessee Band was first organized as a corps of cadets in 1869. The band’s instrumentation was primarily cornets, and was often headed by a cadet leader. In 1892, Ernest H. Garratt was appointed the first official bandmaster. Two years later, Mr. Garratt was replaced by Charles P. Garratt. At the turn of the century, William A. Knabe took over leadership of the band, and held the position of bandmaster until his death in 1914. It was during this time that, in 1902, the band made its first appearance at a football game when UT played Sewanee. UT won 6 to 0!

By 1917, the band, wearing WWI-style uniforms, had 30 members, and was under the leadership of William Crouch. In 1925, Crouch was replaced by Ernest W. Hall. During Hall’s tenure, the band grew to over 80 members. The 1940’s brought considerable change to the band. Walter Ryba was named the new director, and women marched in the band. The half-time shows became theme-oriented and included guest artists. Major Ryba, a former member of the John Philip Sousa Band, served for two decades as UT’s director. It was during this time that Ed Harris, sports reporter for the Knoxville Journal, dubbed the band as the “Pride of the Southland.”

With Ryba’s retirement at the end of 1960, a new era in the band’s history began. For the next three decades, the band, under the direction of Dr. WJ Julian, grew in size, prestige, and reputation. The band was moved from ROTC to the College of Education, and during his first year, Dr. Julian designed new uniforms for the band. These same uniforms remain a tradition at The University of Tennessee. By 1964, the band had grown to over 140 members. Under Dr. Julian, the band was revolutionized in style and appearance, and was known not only for its level of performance, but also as an innovator of the “circle-drill.” In 1972, Dr. Julian introduced a new song to the fans at Neyland Stadium which immediately became the school’s unofficial fight song – “Rocky Top!” Countless traditions were established under Julian’s leadership including the opening of the “T” for the football team at every pre-game ceremony.

In 2015, Dr. Donald Ryder was named the tenth Director of Bands in the history of The University of Tennessee with Dr. Michael Stewart, Associate Director of Bands and Dr. Fuller Lyon, Interim Assistant Director of Bands. During this era, the Pride started a new tradition with the football team. The “Circle of Life” was started as a part of the team’s warm up on the field. The Pride also expanded it’s “in game” experience and continued to uphold the great UT Traditions.

The “Pride of the Southland” Band’s national reputation for excellence due in part to its countless television appearances in the last forty years. Besides representing the State of Tennessee in fourteen Presidential Inaugurations (a record unmatched by any civilian organization), the band has appeared at over 40 bowl games including the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Citrus Bowl, Sun Bowl, Hall of Fame Bowl and the 1998 National Championship Fiesta Bowl. In 2007, the “Pride of the Southland” marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland.

When the University of Tennessee Marching Band takes the field, the fans, alumni, and student reactions indicate that it is not only the Pride of all Tennesseans, but truly the “Pride of the Southland!”