Fall evokes thoughts of Saturday college football, frenzied fans, and rousing renditions of the university fight song by the marching band. Quite a scene! This list presents twenty-five of the most outstanding college marching bands in the country. Because of the subjective nature of evaluating musical and marching traditions, this ranking presents the bands in alphabetical order.
UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA
Million Dollar Band
Fight Song: “Yea Alabama”
Fans of college football well know of the dominance of the University of Alabama football team over the past decade. Not as many, perhaps, are aware of the university’s outstanding Million Dollar Band that is every bit as much a Crimson Tide tradition as Alabama football. Boasting over 400 members, the band is the largest student organization at the University of Alabama. And, the band has been performing at university events, especially football and other sports, for over 100 years old and has become one of the most highly respected university marching bands in the United States.
In 2003 the Million Dollar Band won the Sudler Award, which designates the equivalent of a national champion in college and university bands. With the athletic successes of the university, the band has performed on the national stage in several bowl games as well as exhibitions, parades and other events throughout the country. In 2017, the Million Dollar Band participated at the Bands of America Grand Nationals in Indianapolis.
The Auburn University Marching Band
Fight Song: “War Eagle Glory to ‘Ole Auburn”
“Other institutions need to give descriptive names to their bands in order to praise them. The quality of the music, the precision of its drills, and the fine image that it portrays have made it unnecessary for us to say more than, ‘This is the Auburn University Band.'”
Under the direction of Dr. Corey Spurlin, the Auburn University Band has achieved highest distinction among college and university marching bands. Winner of the 2004 Sudler Intercollegiate Marching Band Trophy, the 380-member by audition only, band, has performed in numerous high profile venues and at several bowl games to the delight of spectators in the stands and at home watching on TV. In 2008 the band traveled to Ireland to march and perform in the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In the same year, the band received the honor of being one of six collegiate bands to selected to participate in ESPN’s Battle of the Bands.
The Auburn University Marching Band promotes the Auburn University spirit by performing in more than thirty events each year, beginning in the fall. Their season extends through the football bowl season and includes football games and other exhibitions.
UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA
Fight Song: “Hail to Georgia”
The Redcoat Band of the University of Georgia has been marching and performing for well over a hundred years. Founded in 1905 with only twenty members, the numbers of marchers has swelled to over 430 members and the reputation of the band has moved into the elite status. The Redcoats perform at all home football games as well as some road games. Winners of the 2000 Sudler Trophy, the Redcoats were the first SEC marching band to receive this honor. In 2006 the Redcoats toured and performed in China.
Currently, under the direction of Dr. Mike Robinson, Dr. Brett Bawcum, and Rob Akridge, the Redcoat Band has performed at bowl games on the national stage at the 2018 College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game and 2018 College Football National Championship in Atlanta.
UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
Hawkeye Marching Band
Fight Songs: “On Iowa,” “Iowa Fight Song,” and “Roll Along Iowa”
The Hawkeye Marching Band includes 260 members who march and perform in front over 70,000 fans at every Hawkeye football home game. The marching band was founded in 1881 to provide music for the State University of Iowa Battalion. By 1936, the band had become part of the University Fine Arts department and is now part of the University School of Music. In 1990, under the direction of Morgan Jones, the Hawkeye Marching Band was awarded the Sudler Trophy as the top intercollegiate marching band in the country. In addition to 260 band members, the marching band features performances by the band drum major, Golden Girl, and Dance Team. In addition to outdoor performances, the Hawkeye Marching Band holds a yearly indoor concert and travels to performs.
In 2012, CNN Headline News called the Hawkeye Marching Band “One of the top ten best college marching bands in the nation!” And, in 2014, Sports Illustrated website raved: the Hawkeye’s marching band is one of “7 Big Ten Halftime Shows Worth the Watch.”
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS
Fight Songs: “Illinois Loyalty” and “Oskee Wow Wow”
The Marching Illini of the University of Illinois is one of the oldest collegiate marching bands in the country. Established in 1867, that band now boasts around 375 members. Like the other bands in this ranking, the primary job of the Marching Illini is performing at football home games to foster school spirit. But that is not the only place to see and hear the band play. The band gives an annual indoor concert and has appeared at halftime of Chicago Bears games. The group has also traveled to Ireland several times to march in the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The Illini, at present directed by Barry L. Houser, is drill focused and somewhat conservative in comparison to other marching bands. However, the quality of musical sounds and the outstanding drill precision the band employs along with its long and hallowed tradition makes the Marching Illini an exceptional college marching band.
JACKSON STATE UNIVERSITY
The Sonic Boom of the South
Jackson State University’s marching band, dubbed by members of the band in 1971 as the Sonic Boom of the South, performs a wide variety of styles in a wide range of venues. In addition to marching for the university, the Sonic Boom has played for several NFL teams. The 250 member band has performed covers of popular hits, been featured in The Smithsonian, and was ranked as the number one halftime show of 2016 by HBCU Sports.
Directed by Dowell Taylor, Roderick Little, and Lowell Hollinger, the Sonic Boom, sometimes called “Hollywood’s band of choice,” and was featured in a TV special commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of Motown and in the 34th NAACP Image Awards. In addition, to live performances, the Sonic Boom was filmed for EA Sports NCAA 2005 video game.
JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY
Marching Royal Dukes
With its unique “jazzy” fight song and the energy and precision of band performance and execution, the Marching Royal Dukes of James Madison University is considered by many to be “Virginia’s Finest and America’s Favorite Collegiate Marching Band. Not only do the Marching Royal Dukes entertain university football fans, but the band has also appeared in presidential and gubernatorial inaugurations and has performed in many NFL halftime shows. The band has also offered its talents for Walt Disney Productions and was featured, in 1988 and 1991, at the Bands of America Grand National Championships.
The Marching Royal Dukes have developed a strong international following as a result of several tours all over Europe. In 1994, the band received the Sudler Trophy. More recently, the Marching Royal Dukes drum line was featured in Keith Urban’s “Love, Pain & the whole crazy World Tour in 2007 and 2008. And, in 2013, the 483 member band marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Under the direction of Scott Rikkers and receiving support from the Yamaha Corporation, Vick Firth, and Zildjian Cymbals, the Marching Royal Dukes set the standard for marching bands and will likely continue to do so for many years to come.
LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY
Tiger Marching Band
Fight Song: “Fight for LSU”
Founded in 1893, the Tiger Marching Band has 325 members and is the largest single organization in the university. By audition only, over eighty percent of the band members are from disciplines outside of music. The band received national acclaim in 2002 when it was recognized for outstanding achievements by the John Philip Sousa Foundation and awarded the Sudler Trophy. The Tiger Band performs for all home football games as well as full-band away games and bowl games.
In 2008, the band won first place in an ESPN band exhibition. The next year the Tiger Marching Band was included in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. In 2012, the Tiger Band received more national attention and acclaim by being named one of the “Top Ten College Marching Bands in the United States” by Huffington Post. In addition to university and national events the band performed in Hong Kong in 2010 as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations, and in 2014 the band marched in the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Under the direction of Dennis Llinás, the Tiger Band continues to impress crowds throughout the world and on fall Saturdays in Baton Rouge.
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
The University of Michigan Marching Band
Fight Song: “The Victors”
The Marching Band held its first rehearsal in 1896 and first publically performed the next year. Since that time the band has grown in both size and reputation. Currently boasting 400 members and under the direction of John Pasquale, the band is widely considered one of the premier collegiate bands in the United States.
For over one hundred years the band has performed for Michigan football fans, establishing a long tradition of marching band excellence in Ann Arbor. In 1983, the band was the first recipient of the Sudler Trophy. With a broad fan base and national admirers, the University of Michigan Marching Band has a busy travel schedule performing at sporting events and band exhibitions across the country.
MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
Spartan Marching Band
Fight Song: “Victory for MSU”
As the oldest marching band in the Big Ten conference and founded way back in 1870 as a ten member student band, the Spartan Marching Band has impressed crowds with its impressive performances and choreographic and musical precision ever since. The band, now comprising over three hundred members, in addition to playing and marching at MSU home games, has maintained a tradition of taking its show on the road. The Spartan Band has appeared in venues throughout the United States, Europe, Asia. Known for its elaborate and highly technical programs, in 1988, the Spartan Marching Band was awarded the Sudler Trophy as the top intercollegiate marching band in the United States. The band has performed for several U.S. presidents, played in five Rose Bowls, two World’s Fairs.
Presently under the direction of Dr. David Thornton, the Spartan Marching Band continues to amaze crowds with its intricate percussion cadences and overall outstanding level of musical and organizational quality.
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
The Pride of Minnesota
Fight Song: “Minnesota Rouser”
The Pride of Minnesota is the top band not only on campus but in the country. Founded in 1892, the band now includes 320 members and performs at the University of Minnesota football games as well as some away games, bowl games, pep fests, and other exhibitions. When the Super Bowl was held in Minnesota in 2018, the Pride performed during the halftime show with Justin Timberlake, and the Pride performed earlier at Super Bowl XXVI in 1992. Since 2016, the Pride of Minnesota has been under the direction of Betsy McCann and continues to perform one of the longest and most difficult programs of any collegiate band in the country.
In addition to performing at sports events, the band performs two indoor concerts at Northrop Auditorium, and every other year at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minnesota. The Pride also appears in parades.
Fight Song: “Stand Up and Cheer!”
The Marching 110, directed by Dr. Richard Suk, is the “most exciting band in the land.” Having performed for over forty NFL halftime shows, and rallying fan support at every football home game, the Ohio University’s marching band is one of the premier collegiate ensembles in the country. Known for its “unique marching style and choreographed dance moves,” the Marching 110 has marched and performed in Carnegie Hall, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade to delight and awe of spectators.
Named for the original number of band members, the Marching 110 now includes over 240 members. In addition to marching at football home games and major parades, the band has made tours of and performed on an international stage in Canada, Ireland, and Italy. The band has also performed for U.S. presidents and first ladies. A couple of the band’s performances have gone viral on YouTube: Party Rock Anthem and Gangnam Style. Prospective band members at Ohio University should consider audition for an opportunity to march and play in the Marching 110!
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA
The Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band
Fight Song: “Boomer Sooner”
For over one hundred years the Pride of Oklahoma marching band has rallied Sooner fans and Sooner pride in their team and their state. Now under the direction of Brian Britt, the Pride continues to emphasize outstanding effort and achievement in music, academics, and in the broader community. With the long-standing success of Sooner football, the Pride has been center stage to the nation dozens of times.
Long recognized as one of the top marching bands in the country the Pride was awarded the coveted Sudler Trophy in 1987. The band marched in the 2007 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in celebration of the state of Oklahoma’s one-hundredth anniversary. Now in its second century of performing, the 320 member Pride marching band, marches into the future with an evolving program that brings tradition into the present.
PENN STATE UNIVERSITY
Fight Song: “Fight On, State”
“Fight on, State!” played by the Blue Band of Penn State University rouses Nittany Lions fans to cheer on their football team in the best spirit of intercollegiate athletics. Founded at the end of the nineteenth century with only six members, the Blue Band now comprises over 300 student members and is considered across the nation as one of its top marching bands. The band has appeared at 40 bowl games and has been the subject of several national and international news and magazine articles. The Blue Band has marched in the Rose Parade in Pasadena and has appeared on the screen in the TV movie Something for Joey (1977) and the 1993 film Rudy. In 2005, the Blue Band was awarded the Sudler Trophy as the top band in the country for that year.
Under the direction of Gregory Drane, the band performs at all Penn State home football games as well as other sporting events. The band continues to perform its signature drill, the “Floating Lion.” In this drill, “The band spells out the word ‘LIONS’ across the field and reverses the drill halfway through, giving the word ‘LIONS’ a full 180-degree rotation.”
All-American Marching Band
Fight Song: “Hail Purdue”
The All-American Marching Band at Purdue University has a storied tradition of band excellence through its long history. From almost the very beginning in 1882, the Purdue marching band has been willing and ready to innovate, to try new things and push boundaries. As a consequence of its forward-thinking directors, the All-American Marching Band has accomplished and implemented many “firsts” in intercollegiate marching band programs. In 1907, the band was first in breaking military rank and forming a block P for Purdue. In 1919, the band became an annual performer at the Indy 500. In 1969, the band was first to have a former member, Neil Armstrong, walk on the moon.
In 1995, Purdue became the first university without a music school to have its marching band win the Sudler Trophy. The year 2008 saw the band become the first college marching band to perform in China at the invitation of the Chinese Ministry of Culture. And in 2010, the All-American Marching Band of Purdue University become the first Big Ten conference band to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The 382 member band is presently directed by Jay Gephart, who continues to build upon and develop the Purdue marching band tradition at football games and other sporting events as well as parades and exhibitions throughout the U.S. and internationally.
SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY AND A&M COLLEGE
The Human Jukebox
Southern University’s top band is called The Human Jukebox because of its ability take any piece of music and bring it to new emotional depths with the “old Southern spirit” shining through. According to its webpage, “band prides itself in the unique ability to execute precision drills better than any other marching ensemble in the country.” The 230-member Human Jukebox combines programmatic precision with an artistic flair that has gained the praises of spectators and musician worldwide. With a program that incorporates a dance troupe with outstanding musical and choreographic execution, the band has performed at numerous NFL games, including six Super Bowls, and exhibitions, in addition to rallying school spirit at Southern football games. The band has performed for presidents and was ranked by the NCAA as the number 2 band in the country. The band received the great honor of performing in 2006 at the New Orleans Super Dome after the Saints return following Hurricane Katrina. Several media outlets and publications have recognized the outstanding quality of the Human Jukebox. These include USA Today, NCAA, ESPN, and Time.
The current interim director of the Human Jukebox, Kedric D. Taylor, continues to foster innovation informed by tradition as the Human Jukebox plays and marches into the future.
UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE
Pride of the Southland Band
Fight Song: “Down the Field”
Founded just after the Civil War, the now 350-member Pride of the Southland Band is regarded throughout the world as one of the country’s most outstanding collegiate marching. Like all the bands who made this list, University of Tennessee band excels in both musicianship and marching. As one of the oldest marching bands, the Pride has a hallowed tradition and has been at the center of marching band evolution over the past 150 years. Some notable characteristics of the band are its T formation, Rocky Top and Circle Drills.
In addition to performing at UT home football games, the Pride of the Southland has represented the state of Tennessee at every presidential inauguration (except 2013) since 1953. In 2007, the band traveled to Dublin to play and march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The Pride of the Southland Band is presently under the direction of Donald Ryder.
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS
Fight Song: “Texas Fight”
Founded in 1900, the Longhorn Band has been a mainstay as Texas football games for decades. The football program has long had a tradition excellence on the field, and right alongside the Longhorn Band has developed its reputation for brilliant musicality and precise choreography. Winner of the 1986 Sudler Trophy, the band has made its mark at home and abroad, performing for U.S. presidents and with famous music artists such as Clay Walker and Willie Nelson. The band has appeared multiple times on television and has marched in several NFL games.
Now under the direction of Joshua Gall, the 375-member band continues to perform in the traditional Longhorn style. The band the many formations that characterize the Texas ensemble. Some of the most notable features are the use of Cowbells, Big Bertha (the biggest marching drum in the world!), Script Texas, and Block T.
TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY
Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band
Founded in 1894, the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band is a 300+member military marching band, making it the biggest such band in the country. Under the direction of Dr. Timothy Rhea, the band is known for its military precision. The band plays and marches at every Texas A&M football home game and many away games as well. Some of the band’s signature maneuvers are the Block T and Block ATM. Unlike other bands, the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band works according to military guidelines because the band is a part of the Corps of Cadets. Because it is a military band, its marches are exclusively traditional.
Among numerous honors, the band has received over the past century, and it was in 2001 awarded the Sudler Trophy as the nations outstanding collegiate marching band. The Fightin’ Aggies have performed in front of many U.S. presidents.
TEXAS TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY
Goin’ Band from Raiderland
Fight Song: “Fight, Raiders, Fight”
With their Matador Style uniforms, which matches the Spanish architecture of the Texas Tech campus, the massive 400+members Goin’ Band from Raiderland, is one of the most exciting band to watch. The band performances reach back to its founding principles and bring them forward in musical and marching performances designed to delight, impress, and entertain audiences of all ages. The band employs a blend of traditional and corps style maneuvers at all Texas Tech home games. Established in 1925 and boasting over 400 performers, the Goin’ Band from Raiderland is both the oldest and largest student organization on the Texas Tech campus.
The band is presently under the direction of Eric Allen and was in 1999 the recipient of the Sudler Trophy as the outstanding marching band of that year.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-LOS ANGELES
Bruin Marching Band
“The Solid Gold Sound”
The Bruin Marching Band is a 250 member group founded in 1928. Winner of the 1993 Sudler Trophy, the band’s current director Gordon Henderson, oversees the music and marching maneuvers the Bruin Marching Band performs at UCLA home football games as well as a number of other sporting events, exhibitions, and private events, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Because the Bruin Band plays and marches every other week in the famed Rose Bowl and because of it’s so close to Hollywood, the band receives a degree of exposure beyond most other college bands. Bruins must also be at the top of their game. The band has appeared in dozens of films and TV broadcasts and has performed with some pop music stars.
UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME
Band of the Fighting Irish
Fight Song: “Notre Dame Victory March”
With currently almost 400 members the Band of the Fighting Irish, is one of the largest and best-known college marching bands. The national exposure and international appeal of Fighting Irish football, the band performs to the world. Since 1887 the Fighting Irish marching band has played for every home football game as well as numerous road games, rallies, and bowls. On game days the band performs a “Concert on the Steps” with such traditional songs as “Trumpets in the Dome.”
Now under the direction of Dr. Kenneth Dye, the Band of the Fighting Irish continues as one of the oldest college bands in the country. Recently, the group has appeared at Carnegie Hall, and each year the band makes an international tour. In 2011 the Band of the Fighting Irish won the Sudler Trophy.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Spirit of Troy
Fight Song: “Fight On”
The Spirit of Troy marching band sums up and channels the USC spirit. With trademark Trojan regalia, the USC marching band is both one of the most recognizable and most highly regarded college marching bands in the country. Formed in 1880, the band is now over 300 members and is the largest pep groups on the USC campus. The band is best known for leading the USC faithful in rallying behind the Trojan football team and other USC athletic events.
Winner of the 2002 Sudler Trophy for the outstanding collegiate marching band, the Spirit of Troy has been recognized by Huffington Post. The USC marching band has made extremely popular CD recordings and has performed nationally and internationally at various political and entertainment events with and in front U.S. presidents and many musical artists.
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN
Fight Song: “On Wisconsin”
The Badger Band has been a fixture for Wisconsin football in rallying school spirit. Founded in 1885, the band was one of the first intercollegiate travel ensembles, performing in different since 1915. The band continues long-standing music and march traditions such as the 5th Quarter, The Band Banquet, Band Day, and On Wisconsin Finale, among others.
Under its current director, Michael Leckrone, these traditions continue rousing delight and verve. The Badger Band also marches in and performs in parades, concerts, and exhibitions around the state of Wisconsin.