In the early months of every fall semester, the familiar sounds return of the MSU marching band’s daily practice, and our walks around campus double in length as we avoid Adams Field or risk being run down by a rogue tuba player. The college has had to work diligently, however, in order to build our band to its present admirable institution. When the first attempt was made to organize a music group in 1875, there was only enough money for seven instruments. The students played for events on campus, but they also worked as a for-hire group around the area, which enabled them to expand and be able to purchase further music and instruments.
Faculty, students, and surrounding community members supported the band and its efforts, and so when the Military Department was
formed in 1884, the band officially fell under its jurisdiction. That year, the first Cadet Band was organized. They provided martial music for the military students to march to, and they also played at parades and dances around East Lansing. By 1913 their numbers had grown from seven to fifty-one, including the first African-American member who joined the previous year – Everett Claudius Yates, a percussion player. The establishment also grew large enough to warrant the construction of an outdoor playing venue, which was created in the form of the Band Shell in 1938.
With the onslaught of World War II, the nature of the Michigan State Marching Band changed. The uniforms themselves even reflected the atmosphere, bearing a rather military air about them in the early part of the 1940s. Declining numbers due to military inscription at this time were detrimental to the band’s survival, so for the first time the organization’s director, Leonard Falcone, admitted women. Falcone himself enlisted and had to spend a few years going to and from campus, fulfilling his duties around the country. MSU saw the benefits of female members: all-female bands were organized to travel around the state and provide entertainment for soldiers, and the women were allowed to remain in the music groups after the end of the war.
The band has also been involved in a number of important events since that time. They were the only group from Michigan to play at
the inauguration of President Lyndon B. Johnson in Washington, D.C. They also performed at the Rose Bowl in 1954, 1956, and 1966. In addition to this, they played at the World’s Fair in New York City during the year of 1964. These facts are only one testament to the MSU Marching Band’s skill, the real proof comes from seeing these dedicated musicians enter Spartan Stadium before thousands of fans. Their commitment to excellence only serves to add to the incredible MSU spirit and pride of all students and alumni in the venue.