Spartans Marching

18 06 2012

The first Cadet Band, photographed here in 1884.

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

The Military Band posing in 1931.

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.

The marching band forms a stick-man during a half-time performance in 1955.

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.

MSU’s students at the World’s Fair in 1964, performing in Rockefeller Center.

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.

Breaking Barriers: First African American Students at Michigan State

28 02 2012

As Black History Month is coming to a close, I thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the first African American students at MSU that broke barriers changing the way the University and its students perceived the presence of African American students on campus. The following three individuals were among the first black students to be a part of the Michigan State community.

Myrtle Craig arrived at MAC after graduating from a small school in Missouri. Craig was not only a woman enrolling at MAC, but was the first African American student to attend the university. She faced many obstacles during her time here.  Not only was the Women’s Building too expensive for her, but she was not allowed to live there because of her race. When she first began at MAC, she lived with Addison Brown, the secretary to the State Board of Agriculture and cooked as a way to pay off her rent. She then moved in with Chance Newman, an Assistant Professor of Drawing and worked as a sales clerk, in a clothing store, and as a waitress to make ends meet. On May 31, 1907 she graduated and received her diploma from United States President Theodore Roosevelt. For the next forty years she devoted her life to teaching African American students.

Gideon E. Smith was also a very influential figure in the history of Black individuals at Michigan State. Starring at left tackle for the Aggies during the 1913, 1914, and 1915 seasons, Smith was the first African American to play football at MAC. He was one of the most influential players on the team and contributed a lot towards winning seasons of football. However, like all other African American students before 1930, Smith’s name and picture were not included in the men’s societies’ pages in the yearbook. Despite his involvement in sports and other societies on campus, there was no visual record of Smith due to the way that African American’s were perceived in society. Despite his struggles to gain credibility among the college community, Smith graduated with a BS in Agriculture in 1916. He went on to become one of the first professional football players and he served in the military during World War I. He then dedicated the rest of his life to teaching and coaching African American youth.

Everett C. Yates, the first African American to play in the college cadet band and orchestra, also paved the way for future Black students here at Michigan State. Yates was a percussionist in both of these organizations that provided music for the parades and dances at that took place on campus.  He graduated with fellow classmate Gideon Smith in 1916 receiving a BS in Horticulture. Even though the two men graduated together, it was not until recently that Yates’ legacy was recognized. After graduating from MAC, Yates went on to become a very successful teacher, teaching music in schools around the country.

These three individuals, Myrtle Craig, Gideon Smith, and Everett Yates, were some of the first African American students to break color barriers on campus. Through their persistence in their respective and highly visible activities, they paved the way for future Black students at Michigan State.