Marching in college is a unique experience. You leave your family to go to college, and then you immediately have a new band family that looks out for each other.
If you thought a high school marching band was fun, you would be blown away the first time you march at a pregame show in a packed stadium with over 50,000 screaming and cheering fans. It’s a moment you will never forget.
There are so many incredible colleges of music (music departments) across the country, with amazing college marching bands. This list will tell you more about some of the best college and university bands, including the top HBCU marching bands. This list was created based on marching technique, notoriety/having gone viral, traveled internationally, musical quality, and difficulty of marching style/music.
Don’t see a band from a school you might go to? Don’t worry that marching band isn’t bad; it just did not fit the criteria for this list. At the end of the day, anyone who marched or marches in college marching bands will tell you the best college marching band is the one they were a part of.
Ranking based on best-performing, most popular crowd pleasers, and most competitive to join. –See our list of Marching Band scholarships–.
1. The Ohio State University Marching Band
The Ohio State University Marching Band is known as The Best Damn Band in the Land (TBDBITL) for a good reason, their incredible halftime shows.
The marching band was founded in 1878 and has become one of the most well-known bands in the US and is full of iconic traditions. The best part of any Ohio State University Marching Band’s pregame shows is their iconic script Ohio set to “Le Regiment de Sambre et Meuse.”
The drum major leads the 228 members of the band as they spell the word OHIO in cursive on the field.
This well-executed drill is completed by a fourth or fifth-year sousaphone player dotting the “i.” A different graduating senior will be selected at each game to “dot the i” by running to the “i” and bowing dramatically.
The band has repeatedly gone viral for their drill, including a formation of Micahel Jackson moonwalking across the field and a T-Rex eating a Michigan player.
The band also will perform in a typical college marching band tradition known as a Skull Session. These Skull Session performances are open to the public, and each section will play a short song, often the latest pop hits or songs from movie soundtracks.
These are fun performances and typically end with the entire band marching over to the stadium before the game starts.
🎵 Fun Fact: The Best Damn Band in The Land does not feature woodwinds in the band; it is purely brass and percussion.
2. The Florida State University Marching Chiefs
Florida State University’s Marching Chiefs began in 1930 and has evolved into a 420+ member marching band phenomenon.
Chiefs became “world-renowned” after performances abroad in Syria, Jordan, London, England, and France. The Marching Chiefs, or Chiefs, were recognized by Sports Illustrated as the “band that has never lost a halftime show.”
🎵 Fun Fact: One thing that makes the Marching Chiefs unique is that every member must earn their spot each year, and the audition process is a week long.
On game days, members are known to show up at Chiefs Field before the sun rises to practice before noon games or early kickoff.
Chiefs often wake up everyone in the dorm across from Chiefs Field on early morning practices. During their pre-game shows, the band uses a mix of high-step, known as Chief Step, and traditional drum and bugle corps marching.
Halftime is typically done using roll-step style marching.
Like the Ohio State University Marching Band, Chiefs perform a Skull Session in the baseball stadium before marching to the stadium.
🎵 Fun Fact: College of Music Professor Tommy Wright was the original model for the school’s iconic Seminole Head logo.
The Marching Chiefs went viral in 2014 with their Beyonce Show. The entire band performed the “Single Ladies” dance on the field, which was a huge hit.
The band has performed in costumes (zombies for a Halloween show, 1950s-Grease outfits, pirates, etc.).
It utilizes props like fire extinguishers, flaming batons, and the occasional well-choreographed dance number.
Once you become a member of the Florida State University Marching Chiefs, you become part of a family and spend the fall semester with “more than 400 of your closest friends.”
3. University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band
Not long after the University of Southern California was founded in 1880, the Trojan Marching Band was formed.
The USC Trojan Marching Band, also known as the “Spirit of Troy,” comes from Los Angeles, California, and typically consists of 300+ students from every major.
The Spirit of Troy is a well-known and highly regarded marching band that has performed alongside many music stars, including Michael Jackson, Beyonce, John Williams, Fleetwood Mac, Diana Ross, and more.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, the Trojan Marching Band has been honored to play for five U.S. presidents and 34 different Rose Bowl appearances on New Year’s Day.
The Spirit of Troy was featured on the main stage at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2010, 2015, and 2016.
The band has traveled the world, playing in France, Prague, China, Rome, Brazil, Ireland, Australia, Spain, Portugal, Japan, and Italy. It may sound like the Trojan Marching Band has done it all, and they have. They also performed at the Summer Olympics in both 1932 and 1984 as part of the Olympic All-American Marching Band.
Of all the college marching bands in the country, The Spirit of Troy has some of the most dramatic uniforms you can find.
The band members wear a traditional marching band uniform. Still, instead of shakos, the band wears golden Roman-styled helmets with long crimson plumes and sunglasses. The head drum major is adorned in a time-era accurate roman soldier uniform with a golden breastplate, a skirt, sandals, and conducts the band with a sword.
🎵 Fun Fact: the first female drum major in the history of the Trojan Marching Band, India Anderson, was elected in 2019. She helped prove that the role of drum major is about musical talent, conducting abilities, leadership skills, and determination rather than gender.
Check out the video below to see the band’s performance of “That’s What I Want” by Lil Nas X from halftime on September 17, 2022.
4. Pennsylvania State University Marching Blue Band
The Penn State University Marching Blue Band, also known as the Blue Band, was founded in 1899.
When The Blue Band began, it was only a six-member drum and bugle corps organized by a student, George H. Deike. T
he Blue Band usually has around 300+ members, including the Blue Band Silks (color guard) and the Touch of Blue (majorettes), as well as a Blue Sapphire (feature baton twirler).
The band was called the “College Band” and wore brown military-style uniforms. Blue uniforms were introduced in 1923 but only for high-ranking members of the band, and the others still wore brown.
The members allowed to wear blue were specially chosen members of the traveling band for away games and were known as the “Blue Band.”
🎵 Fun Fact: Women were allowed to join the marching band in 1944 because the World War II draft took many band members. Sisters Edith and Edna Murry auditioned for the orchestra in 1944 and were asked to join the Blue Band.
After the war, the band returned to its all-male status, but thanks to Edith Murry, female musicians became part of a Concert Blue Band. Women were allowed to join the band in 1973; around 66% of the band today is female.
The 1970s brought along another Blue Band tradition, the front flip.
At the start of every pre-game show, the head drum major will do a 40-yard strut, do a front flip, and jump into a split.
In 1971 this tradition was created by drum major Jeff Roberston (who did a backflip which was changed to a front flip in 1977) and is an integral part of every Blue Band game day tradition. Each year every member must audition if they wish to be part of that year’s marching band; nobody is guaranteed a spot in the block.
The Blue Band has attended 33 bowl games and has marched in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California! At the end of a game, the band will do a parade from the stadium to the band building, and this parade includes chants and choreographed moves for each section.
5. The University of Texas at Austin Longhorn Band
The University of Texas Longhorn Band (LHB) is also known as “The Showband of the Southwest.”
The band was formed in 1900 by a chemistry professor, Dr. Eugene Schoch, and has around 375 members yearly.
All band members must register for a year-round band class at the Butler School of Music. All Longhorn Band members must enroll in a Longhorn concert band, a jazz or percussion ensemble, or an indoor color guard class during the spring.
The Longhorn Band was presented the prestigious Sudler Trophy from the John Philip Sousa Foundation in 1986, one of the most impressive awards for a college marching band.
It is considered the Heisman Trophy for a college band.
Along with the Sudler Trophy, the Showband of the Southwest has been part of the inauguration parades for five U.S. presidents:
- John F. Kennedy
- Lyndon B. Johnson
- Ronald Reagan
- George H.W. Bush
- George W. Bush.
Some of the LHB’s classic drill includes the “Script Texas” during halftime shows. The first time the drill was performed was in 1957, similar to how Ohio State University Band performs their “Script Ohio.”
Another well-known drill position is the “Wall to Wall Band,” which requires the band to spread out in lines that span from one field goal to the other.
🎵 Fun Fact: The Wall to Wall Band drill differs from the standard drill. The Longhorn Band does not march in the standard eight-to-five (eight steps to move from one-yard line to the next). This drill is a six-to-five which is unique to the Longhorn Band. Learn more about Marching Band Drill Here!
Each year the band will perform four non-traditional shows each season. With the excellent musical talent of the musicians, these songs will pop up annually.
See what it’s like to march in the University of Texas Band with this go pro persepective.
Some of these shows include the Grammy’s Show, The Beatles, and the music from West Side Story.
The band consists of one particular member, Big Bertha. Big Bertha is considered one of the world’s largest bass drum, called the “Sweetheart of the Longhorn Band,” and is featured during pregame.
You can find Big Bertha at many other athletic events to bring some Longhorn spirit to every game, not just football.
Check out the videos below to see the Longhorn Band’s halftime show from October 1, 2022, and a look at what it is like to be in the Longhorn Band.
6. Purdue University All-American Marching Band (AAMB)
Purdue University’s All-American Marching Band was formed in 1886, a year before the school’s first football team was founded.
At its start, the band consisted of five members who would play music for the Student Army Training Corps members during conditioning marches every morning.
Today the band has around 380+ members and was the first to have national recognition for its feature twirlers. The AAMB has been the official band for the Indianapolis 500 car race since 1919.
Along with NASCAR performances, the band has played in the following countries:
They were invited to perform for the Beijing Summer Olympic Games in 2008, the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland, and Medellin, Colombia, for the Feria de las Flores.
The band received the Sudler Trophy and is the only university band without a school of music to win this award.
Something interesting about the All-American Marching Band is that it has four Featured Twirlers, the Golden Girl, the Girl in Black, and the Silver Twins. The Golden Girl is always one of the top-ranked twirlers in the country.
The Silver Twins were created for identical twins, and in the band’s history, the role has been performed by twins and two girls who look alike.
The band’s Block P formation (a large P on the field) has been performed on Mount Fuji, the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China, and underwater in Hawaii.
The band has several significant “firsts,” including:
🎵 Being the first college band to have members invited to perform at Radio City Music Hall
🎵 The first marching band to play the fight song of the opposing school
🎵 The first Big Ten band to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
🎵 Fun Fact: Some notable AAMB members were Orville Redenbacher (a tuba player and the founder of Orville Redenbacher popcorn), Neil Armstrong (a baritone player), and Russell Games Slayter ( a tuba player who invented fiberglass).
Check out the videos below of the AAMB’s pregame show and their “80s Music Party Halftime Show”.
7. University of Michigan Marching Band
The Michigan Marching Band was formed in 1896 when a student invited all musicians on campus to attend a meeting to create a band for the University. At that meeting, thirty musicians showed up, and the band was run by the students with no support from the University at its beginnings.
With support from the school and over 400 members, the Michigan Marching Band represents the Yellow and Blue with a powerful sound.
In 1972 women were allowed to join the Michigan Marching Band, and the band’s size grew exponentially.
🎵 Fun Fact: Today, over half of the band members are women, showing that women have a place in the marching arts at a college and university level.
In 1983 the Michigan Marching Band became the first band to receive the Sudler Trophy, the band was elected the winner after 700 college marching band directors, sportswriters, and broadcasters voted.
Life Magazine featured the band’s performance in New York City in 1950 and was featured in a color broadcast of the Today Show!
The band performed in the 1973 Super Bowl VII and 1982 Superbowl XVI. The band had performances at the Rose Bowl in 1972, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1987, 1989, 1990, and 2007.
Their performance in 1978 was special because it was the first public performance of John Williams’ score for the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Check out the videos below to see the Michigan Marching Band’s pregame show and the halftime show that included the University of Michigan Musical Theater Department.
8. University of Oklahoma Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band
The Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band, commonly referred to as The Pride, represents the University of Oklahoma Sooners.
The Pride of Oklahoma began in 1904 and was originally a pep band that would disband after the football season. This band was made up of musicians from the university and townspeople.
🎵 Fun Fact: Director William R. Wehrend organized a publicity stunt in 1934 that was an attempt to play the world’s longest drum roll. The world record was reached after 10 hours.
It was also the same year women were allowed to join the band. 1934 is one of the earliest dates that women were permitted in marching band for most universities.
Below you can see the Pride of Oklahoma’s Pregame show.
The band participated in four back-to-back Orange Bowl games in the mid-1980s. The Pride of Oklahoma received the Sudler Trophy in the 80s, a tremendous honor for the marching band.
In a 1983 game, the director of the band, Gene “Coach” Thrailkill, was removed from the field and was so angry that he told the band to “start playing and don’t stop until we’re ahead!”
The game’s score then was Oklahoma State 20 to University of Oklahoma 3. The band played their well-known “Boomer Sooner” song non-stop, and after playing around 300 times, the Sooners were ahead 21-20.
The band was awarded the game ball, and the head coach of the football team wrote on it “The Day The Pride Won” to commemorate the strange yet inspiring event.
Check out the videos below to see the and their halftime tribute to K-Pop’s BTS.
9. The Louisiana State University Tiger Marching Band
LSU’s Tiger Marching band, also known as “The Golden Band from Tigerland” or simply the Tiger Band.
The LSU Tiger Band was formed in 1893 as a military band organized by two students, Wylie M. Barrow and Ruffin G. Pleasant.
🎵 Fun Fact: Pleasant was also the football team’s quarterback and was credited with changing the school’s official colors from blue and white to the now widely recognized purple and gold. If that wasn’t enough, Pleasant was the director of the 11-member band and later became the governor of the state of Louisiana!
Today the band has grown to a giant 325 members.
The band participates in Mardi Gras festivities, a tradition dating back to the 1900s. In the early 1900s, women were allowed to join the band as majorettes, but it wasn’t until 1943 that females could join the band as musicians.
In 1959, the then director Thomas Tyra added The Ballet Corps, now known as the Golden Girls, thus increasing female membership numbers in the Tiger Band. The pregame show that is still done to this day was developed in the 1960s and has not changed.
Unlike most college and university bands, every student selected to be a member of the LSU Tiger Band, including the Color Guard and Golden Girls, receives a $1,000 service award stipend.
The stipend plus the University’s coverage of all expenses related to road trips and uniforms, in addition to most of the instruments needed for the band, are available for use at no cost to students means being part of the Tiger Band will not cause any financial hardship on members.
In 2002, the Golden Band from Tigerland was awarded the Sudler Trophy in recognition of its exceptionality.
In the organization’s history, only three women have held the role of drum major: Kristie Smith in 1999, Mindy Hebert in 2000, and Mary Bahlinger in 2014.
Each year, 72 members are hand selected to join the Bengal Brass Basketball Band to perform at volleyball games, all men’s and women’s basketball games, as well as postseason at the Final Four and many home gymnastics meets. The Tiger Band is always there to cheer “GEAUX TIGERS!” year-round.
Check out the video below to see a popular halftime show from 2018 called the Binge Watch Halftime Show.
10. University of Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band
The University of Nebraska Cornhusker Marching band, also known as the Marching Red or The Pride of All Nebraska, comprises 300 members across 60 academic majors.
The school’s band program was founded in 1879 as a small ROTC band and has evolved into five ensembles, including the Cornhusker Marching Band, which has 140 years of traditions and school spirit.
🎵 Note: the Marching Red is one of the oldest collegiate marching bands in the United States!
The Cornhusker Marching Band is one of a few college bands that have performed at every major bowl game. Some repeat performances have occurred at the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotto, Alamo, Fiesta, and Sun Bowls.
In 1993, the marching band played onstage at the Kennedy Center as part of the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony.
Like many bands on this list, the Cornhusker Marching Band has traveled and performed in Europe and received the Sudler Trophy (in 1996).
Check out the videos below for the Cornhusker Marching Band’s pregame show (keep an eye out for the pit along the front sideline!) and their 2021 Halloween halftime show.
11. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Marching Illini
The Marching Illini (MI) was formed in 1867 as a military band and today consists of 400 members.
In 1893, the band was invited to play for two weeks at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (also known as the World’s Fair) and performed two daily shows.
In the early days, the marching band was simply referred to as the “Football Band” until director Mark Hindsley coined the “Marching Illini” in 1950.
The Marching Illini was the second band ever awarded the Sudler Trophy in 1983.
The band has performed in a large number of bowl games:
- Hall of Fame
- Citrus Bowls, and many others as well.
🎵 Fun Fact: The band’s library contained the most extensive collection of original scores and papers from John Philip Sousa, and these archives are held now at the University Library.
Speaking of John Philip Sousa, he declared that the Marching Illini was “the World’s Greatest Collage Band” in the 1920s. With a band as old as the Marching Illini, there are many firsts that the band had in marching history.
- The Marching Illini was the first college marching band to use sousaphones after they were purchased in 1906-1907.
- The band performed the first halftime show like we see today in 1907 against the University of Chicago game.
- The band was part of the first football game broadcast on the radio (in 1924 as an experimental play-by-play broadcast).
- It was the first school to have a dedicated student section back in 1929.
- Don’t forget, the Marching Illini performed at both the first televised football game and the first football game to be televised in color.
Check out the video below for their 2017 Pirates of the Caribbean halftime show.
12. The University of Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish
Founded in 1844, the Band of the Fighting Irish is the oldest university marching band in the United States.
The band averages around 380+ members each year. It is composed of students of the University of Notre Dame, the private women’s college Saint Mary’s College, and the private Catholic Holy Cross College.
The members from Saint Mary’s were allowed to join the Band of the Fighting Irish in 1970, a full two years before the University of Notre Dame became a coeducational university.
The band travels across the country for all kinds of performances like masses, parades, bowl games, and many national championships.
Every year a portion of the band takes part in an international tour in a different country. In the past, the Band of the Fighting Irish has traveled to:
- New Zealand
- South Africa
🎵 Fun Fact: Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish is one of the few collegiate marching bands with members who march xylophones and glockenspiels (bells).
The band begins its home game performance on the Friday afternoon before the game the next day. The band leads a parade across campus.
At midnight, a crowd of students, fans, and other sections of the band gather in front of the main campus building for “Drummer’s Circle,” led by the percussion section. This event is full of singing, chanting, and a fair amount of people dancing an Irish jig!
Game Day is a 29-hour event for members of the Band of the Fighting Irish. The band wakes the campus on game day by parading through the grounds before breaking into smaller ensemble performances. All of this happens before the band enters the stadium.
The Band of the Fighting Irish has played for every president since its founding and has performed with the band Chicago, Jon Bon Jovi, and Chris Vadala.
Below is a video of halftime performance against North Carolina.
13. Clemson University Tiger Band
The Clemson University Tiger Band, also known as the Tiger Band or the “Band that Shakes the Southland,” has over 300 members, and its history is a bit unique.
Before the 1950s, Clemson University was a military college. It did not accept civilian students but had a Cadet Corps. The Cadet Corps was a traditional military drum and bugle corps. When the university opened to civilians in 1955, the marching band earned the name the “Tiger Band.”
The 1960s were important years for the Tiger Band. In 1961 the band received a permanent building, and in 1962 baton twirlers were added to the Tiger Band. In 1962 the band was invited to perform for the then-President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, in Washington, D.C. In 1964 the Tiger Band performed at the halftime show of an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Baltimore Colts; halftime was shown live on CBS.
If you join a college marching band and have to play an away game at Clemson, be prepared for the deafening sound in the stadium.
It is a huge concrete stadium, and it’s nicknamed “Death Valley.” Once you step inside that stadium and hear the roar, their killer football team, and the view from the field, you will understand why. If Clemson wins the game, the fans are allowed to swarm the field, and all you will see is a mass of purple, orange, and tiger stripes.
Check out the videos below to see Clemson University’s parade into Death Valley.
14. Virginia Tech University’s Marching Virginians
The Marching Virginians, also known as “The Spirit of Tech,” is not the university’s only marching band. Something unique about Virginia Tech is they are one of the few universities in the country to have a military band representing the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.
This traditional drum and bugle corps group is known as the “Highty Tighties.” It is much smaller than the 330+ member Marching Virginians.
The Spirit of Tech is known for its annual charity event, Hokies for the Hungry, a canned food drive for members of the Blacksburg, Virginia community.
One of the most notorious cheers is the band’s “Stick It In” cheer which the band used to play whenever the Hokies were in the red zone. It was a drum cheer that had a scandalous hip-thrusting dance that went with it. In 2007, the Virginia Tech Athletics Department officially banned “Stick It In.”
🎵 Fun Fact: Each show requires over 5,000 man-hours resulting in a grand total of 35,000 hours (4 years in the program) on the marching field.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, the Marching Virginians march over 65,000 miles, or three times around the world, in most marching seasons.
The band has regularly made appearances in post-season bowl games since the 1981 Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1984 the Spirit of Tech performed halftime at Clemson’s Death Valley stadium, and a rare event occurred. The band received a standing ovation from the crowds of Virginia Tech and Clemson fans alike.
Check out the video below to see their 2021 Led Zeppelin Halftime show.
15. University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band
The Hawkeye Marching band, also known as HMB, was founded in 1881 as a military band where both music students and military members would play together.
The military and entertainment marching bands became two separate groups by 1929, and the HMB started playing at public events rather than military events in the past.
The HMB marches with a traditional high step, the chair step, during pregame performances and parades, while roll and glide steps are performed at halftime.
Their chair step style is known as the Swagger because members sway their shoulders and instruments from side to side, creating a 45-degree angle.
Along with many other bands on this list, the HMB won the Sudler Trophy in 1990.
There have only been two female drum majors in the history of the Hawkeye Marching Band. The feature twirlers are known as the “Golden Girl(s).”
🎵 Note: The University of Iowa Golden Girl is one of the two full-tuition (full-ride) scholarships available to twirlers in the United States.
The Hawkeye Marching Band plays at every home game and typically travels to one away game per year and all post-season bowl games.
Every three years, the band travels to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the Cedar Rapids Indoor Marching Classic, where they perform an exhibition of their halftime show for seven different local high school bands.
Check out the video below to see the HMB’s halftime show celebrating country music.
16. University of Alabama Million Dollar Band
The Million Dollar Band was established in 1912 and is the largest student organization at the university, with around 400 members.
🎵 Fun Fact: the name “Million Dollar Band” was coined in 1922. An alumnus was at a game against Georgia Tech, and Alabama was crushed and lost the game; a sports writer said to him, “You don’t have much of a team, what do you have at Alabama?” The alumnus responded, “A million dollar band.” Since that day, the band has been known as The Million Dollar Band.
In 1949 the band performed at President Harry S. Truman’s inauguration. By then, the Million Dollar Band had become well-known for their precision marching and clean drill formations, thanks to the then-director Colonel Carleton Butler.
Butler did not allow majorettes to join the band. Still, a female sponsor would lead the band into the stadium, holding a bouquet of red roses.
The first female director of the Million Dollar Band and the first woman to direct a marching band at a Division I school was Kathryn B. Scott in 1984. She changed the band’s marching style to a more corps style instead of the traditional military marching the band had used to that point.
In 2003 the band was awarded the Sudler Trophy. That same year the current director Dr. Ozzello started a tradition of singing the Alma Mater after Friday rehearsals and after every game, win or lose.
If you have ever seen a football game against Alabama, you will hear some well-known songs performed in the stands.
One such song is “Look Down” from the musical Les Misérables, which rings through every stadium when the team is on defense.
At the fourth quarter break, the band has been playing “Basket Case” by Green Day since the middle of 1996. The final song you will hear the Million Dollar Band play frequently is the Fleetwood Mac song “Tusk” because “Tusk” is shorthand for the university’s location in Tuscaloosa!
Check out the videos below to hear the Look Down defense cheer and see a 2021 halftime show.
17. Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Marching Band
Georgia Tech’s Yellow Jacket Band, also known as the Marching Yellow Jackets, was founded in 1908 by 14 students.
🎵 Note: The Yellow Jacket Marching Band was the first college in the American South to have their songs recorded and marketed by the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1925.
In 1954 two of the nine females who attended Georgia Tech were the first females in the marching band. In a progressive move, the band stopped playing “Dixie” at basketball games in 1970, decades before other southern bands stopped playing the song as well.
In 1991, at a game against the University of Georgia, the Marching Yellow Jackets pulled a prank that gained the band media notoriety.
At the start of halftime, some members of the Yellow Jackets carried a large tarp with the logo for Georgia Tech painted on it. The tarp was used to cover the logo painted at midfield celebrating UGA’s football centennial.
You could not hear the Yellow Jackets’ performance because of the boos from the home crowd, but it did make an audience stay in their seats. When it was time for UGA’s Redcoat Band to step onto the field, people left the stands for bathroom breaks and a visit to the concession stand because they had stayed in their seats just to boo at Georgia Tech.
The Marching Yellow Jacket Band usually marches two shows per season, a pregame and a halftime show. You can see the pregame show in the video below.
The pregame show is the same yearly, as many college bands do, but their halftime show will change each season.
After post-game announcements, the band plays a classic marching band chart, The Horse. Fans and student section members stay in the stadium to dance with the band to this song.
Check out the videos below to see the Marching Yellow Jacket Band’s pregame show and their fun spin on The Horse.
18. The Auburn University Marching Band
The Auburn University Marching Band (AUMB) was formed in 1897 and today stands at 380 members.
In 1917 the band shipped out to Europe during World War I as the 16th Infantry Regimental Band. The school’s music department was created in 1945, and female majorettes were added to the band’s ranks the following year.
🎵 Fun Fact: The AUMB joined the University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band at President Harry S. Truman’s inauguration parade in 1949.
The first female drum major of the AUMB was Deborah Whatley, who held the position for the years 1972 and 1973.
Another major first for the band was Jeffrey Rowser became the first African American drum major of the Auburn University Marching Band as well as the first African American drum major in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in the early 1980s.
Like many bands on this list, the Auburn University Marching Band was awarded the Sudler Trophy in 2004. Four years later, the band made its first overseas appearance to perform in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland.
The band members (excluding saxophones and clarinets) are provided with silver instruments to have a uniform look and sound.
The band performs in the home game tradition of Tiger Walk, which occurs two hours before every home football game.
Tiger Walk is a tradition from the 1960s where the football team members walk down Donahue Drive and are cheered for and patted on the back by thousands of fans who line both sides of the street.
The band splits into two smaller pep bands at the start and end of the Tiger Walk to welcome the team to the stadium and hype them up during their walk down Donahue Drive.
Check out the videos below to see both the pregame and halftime shows performed by the Auburn University Marching Band.
19. The Ohio University Marching 110
The Ohio University’s Marching 110, also known as the Marching 110, is the official band for Ohio University and calls the Athens, Ohio, campus home.
The band was founded in 1923, but the band became more popular in 1966 with a new director of bands, Gene Thrailkill. Thrailkill changed the marching style and uniforms, which are still the staples of Marching 110.
He removed all women and majorettes and only had one drum major. In 1967 the band was called “The Marching Men of Ohio,” and the following year, the band became the “110 Marching Men of Ohio.”
🎵 Fun Fact: Thrailkill gave the band the nickname “The Most Exciting Band in the Land,” a nod to Ohio State University’s claim to be “The Best Damn Band In the Land.”
Women were able to join the marching band again in 1975, and the band’s name became the Marching 110. The Marching 110 was the first college marching band to perform in Carnegie Hall in 1976.
The band is one of the few collegiate marching bands with a “middle percussion” section. The band’s drumline includes four timbales.
The band marches in a traditional high-step style with a swagger like the University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band.
The Marching 110 features one “dance break” per halftime show. The Dance Commanders choreograph these dance breaks and then teach the entire band the routine. The band has been doing this fun dance break since 1967.
The Marching 110 has marched in three Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades, the Tournament of Roses Parade, and an impressive 40+ NFL halftime performance.
The band has gone viral twice with their 2011 dance performance of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” and dancing to “Gangnam Style” by Korean artist PSY the following year. The videos have 12 and 8.8 million views, respectively.
20. University of Wisconsin Marching Band
The 300+ member University of Wisconsin Marching Band, also known as the Badger Band, or The Wisconsin Band, is based out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been nicknamed “The Hardest Working Band in America.”
The Badger Band was started in 1885, nine years before the University of Wisconsin had a football team. The band was originally a military band on campus, and in 1894 the band of 26 members started playing at the school’s football games.
In the mid-1930s and for the next third of the century, under the direction of Professor Raymond R. Dvorak, the Badger band became renowned nationally for their innovative halftime shows.
The band developed an energetic style of marching utilizing their “stop at the top” high-step marching style. The Badger Band does not have a color guard or a flute/piccolo section.
The sections of the band are divided into 26 different ranks.
🎵 Fun Fact: Each rank in the band has its own section motto. The entire band has the motto “Eat a Rock,” which is their unique way of saying when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
The Badger Band always performs a 5th Quarter, where they march onto the field after the game has ended and play both school’s fight song and several stand tunes.
This tradition comes from the 1970s because the football team was terrible. People would stay until halftime to watch the Badger Band perform, and adding this 5th Quarter kept fans in their seats from the start of the game until after it finished.
Check out the videos below to see the Badger Band perform its pregame show and a recent tribute to the 1980s-themed halftime show.
Top 10 HBCU Marching Bands
This list of the Top 30 Best College Marching Bands would be incomplete without some of the most well-known marching bands from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The marching band is the most recognizable and celebrated organization at most HBCUs, and they play a large part in the culture of these schools.
Dr. Douglas L. Allen from Tuskegee Institute and Florida A&M University, who studies culture and music at HBCUs, has written that “from the beginning, HBCU marching bands have sought to entertain Black audiences by infusing traditional marching band styles… with Black art forms and Black joy.”
Dr. Allen explains that HBCU bands “often coordinate band-wide dance routines and perform a mix of musical genres and songs made popular through Black culture and excellence (e.g., R&B, gospel, rap, and jazz).”
🎵 Note: Unlike other colleges where fans get food or go to the bathroom during halftime, at HBCU schools, halftime is the most exciting part of any football game.
These bands often participate in events like the Honda Battle of the Bands, which is an entire exhibition of performances with dance teams, dance breaks, and mighty sounds. These 10 bands are known for their amazing shows and being the best of the best HBCU marching bands.
Just like the 20 marching bands before, this is not in a ranked order. These 10 bands are some of the most well-known HBCU bands. Because we can’t list them all, some HBCU bands worth mentioning are from Tuskegee University, Howard University, Alcorn State University, and Winston-Salem State University.
#1. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) Marching 100
Florida A&M’s Marching 100 was officially formed in 1910 in Tallahassee, Florida, and WWII made the number of band members drop to its lowest.
In 1946 William P. Foster became the director of bands; the marching band had only 16 members.
Foster worked hard to recruit musicians with the goal of having at least 100 members in his mind. This is how FAMU’s “Marching 100” got its name, and Foster was an integral part of the band for 52 years. Today the Marching 100 has 400+ members.
🎵 Note: The Marching 100 has been credited for over 30 different marching innovations and pageantry. Many traditions and stylistic elements from the Marching 100’s early days have become part of the standard marching band fundamentals and halftime performances. This led The Miami Herald newspaper to name the band “The Most Imitated Band in America.”
In 1985, FAMU’s Marching 100 became the fourth band in history to receive the Sudler Trophy. The Marching 100 is the only HBCU band to be awarded this trophy.
The Marching 100 were invited by the French government to be the official representative of the U.S. at the Bicentennial Celebration of Bastille Day in Paris, France. Millions of people worldwide watched on tv as the Marching 100 marched along the Avenue des Champs-Elysees.
The Marching 100 returned to Paris in June 2022 to perform as part of Louis Vuitton’s men’s spring-summer 2023 fashion show at the Louvre.
The Marching 100 performed at several Super Bowl games, the Summer Olympics, and the inaugural parades for presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. FAMU and FSU have some of the most loyal band alumni and fans.
2. Bethune-Cookman University Marching Wildcats
Bethune-Cookman University Marching Wildcats, also referred to as The Pride or the B-CU Band, has 300+ members, including their Sophisticat Flag Corps and their famous 14 Karat Gold Dancers.
The first Bethune-Cookman band was formed in 1930 and consisted of 30 marching members. Bethune-Cookman vs. FAMU is the biggest rivalry, but FAMU helped support the B-CU Band initially.
All instruments for the band in 1930 came from FAMU. FAMU also donated uniforms to the baseball team at Bethune-Cookman at its formation in 9124 and also donated football equipment.
The B-CU Band also has been known as “the only band that’s guaranteed to show up and show out, anywhere and anytime.” The Marching Wildcats have played NFL halftime shows for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Miami Dolphins in the last decade.
They have won first place several times at the National Battle of the Bands competition, which has led to several documentaries about the band, including a series on Netflix from 2018 to 2021 (Marching Orders) and the NFL Films from TruTV (Full Contact).
The Marching Wildcats have been chosen more than 10 times to participate in the Honda Battle of the Bands Invitational Showcase at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.Fun Fact: the Bethune-Cookman University Marching Wildcats were featured in the film “Drumline” with Nick Cannon and Zoe Saldana.
3. Jackson State University Sonic Boom of the South
The Sonic Boom of the South, also known as SBOTS and Da Boom, has over 300 members, and it was founded in 1940. The Sonic Boom of the South’s name comes from band members’ suggestion to the then director Harold J Haughton Sr. in 1971.
During Haughton’s time at JSU, he changed the band uniforms to the now iconic light navy blue, made the band’s theme a Motown hit, “Get Ready,” and replaced the Majorettes with dancers.
The dance/majorette team is now known as the Prancing J-Settes. At HBCUs, the majorettes are the dance team and perform dance routines in the stands and on the field. In 2000 the band grew from four drum majors (known as the Fabulous 4) to the “Jackson 5” drum majors (known as J5 as well).
In 2003 the Sonic Boom of the South was memorialized in the NCAA Hall of Champions. The SBOTS performed in the Motown 30th Anniversary, the 34th NAACP Image Awards, and several NFL halftime shows.
🎵 Fun Fact: The Sonic Boom of the South performed in the 2021 Presidential Inauguration Parade. The band marches using high step style, and when they spell out the school’s initials on the field, they must take steps that are precisely 22.5 inches.
4. Southern University and A&M College The Human Jukebox
Southern University’s Human Jukebox, also known as The Jukebox and the Marching Band from Jaguar Land, was founded in 1947.
The band’s name, The Human Jukebox because in the 40s, the band would play the “top 40” music charts, just like a jukebox could. The Human Jukebox is one of the most well-known HBCU marching bands (along with Jackson State and Alabama State University).
The Human Jukebox, sometimes described as “Often Imitated But Never Duplicated,” has, on average, 250+ members each year.
The band stresses excellence in precision drill and formations and puts on a great show.
🎵 Note: The Southern University Fabulous Dancing Dolls (the dance team) has been a part of the Jukebox for over 40 years. The Dancing Dolls performed with Madonna at her 2012 Super Bowl halftime show and were featured in Beyonce’s Netflix Documentary ¨HΘMΣCΘMING: A film by Beyonce.¨
One of the most exciting traditions of the Human Jukebox is a battle of the bands against Grambling State University at the Bayou Classic weekend at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.
The event is packed with tens of thousands of alumni, former band members/dance team members, and fans. Unlike most marching band halftime shows that the TV crews cut out of the halftime report, this battle of the bands has clips that are aired on national television thanks to NBC.
In 2015 the band went viral for their version of “Hello” by Adele. The Human Jukebox was written about by the press both in the US and abroad. Vice Media released a short documentary in 2019 about the historical and cultural significance of the Human Jukebox and the Bayou Classic.
5. Alabama State University Mighty Marching Hornets
Alabama State University Mighty Marching Hornets, also known as the ASU Marching Hornets, are one HBCU band recognized nationwide.
The band has been invited to perform at many NFL football games and classic games like the Bronze Classic in 1991, the Alma Heritage Bowl in 191, and the Battle of the Bands competitions in Mobile, LA, and Atlanta, GA.
The Marching Hornets have a motto that shows just how hard they work and what they must sacrifice to be part of the band. The motto is “THE PRICE OF GLORY IS HIGH.” No foolish college antics for these kids because, on and off the field, the members of the band represent their school.
The band is well-known for its two dance teams, the Stingettes and the Honey Bees. The Stingettes are the epitome of HBCU dance team excellence, and their stand routines are loved by fans from ASU or from the opposing school.
🎵 Fun Fact: The Honey Bees were created to show plus-size dancers that their dreams of dancing on a team with an HBCU band are possible.
All members must be at least 250 pounds, have passing grades, and they have to know how to dance. Every Honey Bees show ends with cartwheels and splits.
🎵 Fun Fact 2: Justin Heideman, who became famous for being a white drum major for a predominantly black high school band, is now a drum major for the Marching Hornets.
Check out the videos below to see the Mighty Marching Hornets perform at halftime featuring the Stingettes and Honey Bees. The second video is of the drum major “Vanilla Funk” (Heideman) in high school.
6. Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band
Grambling State University, also known as the Tiger Marching Band and billed as the World Famed Tiger Marching Band, has over 200 members and was founded in 1926.
The band acquired 17 instruments from Sears and Roebuck, and no music department existed. The 17 band members at the time did not know how to play or read music, but they started performing anyway. The Tiger Marching Band has come a long way since then.
The band performed at Super Bowls I and II before the Super Bowl was officially named the Super Bowl. The “World Famed” title began when the band traveled to Liberia in 1972 for the inauguration of Liberian President William R. Tolbert.
The band performed at the Mirage Bowl in Tokyo, Japan, a few years later. At the Bayou Classic in 1978, the band introduced their all-female dance line. The band was seen in the Hollywood film “Grambling’s White Tiger” in 1981.
President Bill Clinton played the saxophone with the band for a halftime show in Grambling, Louisiana, in 1999. The band was part of an award-winning tv commercial for C0ca-C0la and returned to Japan to perform as a Special Guest for the Emperor of Japan in Osaka and again at the Mirage Bowl.
The Tiger Marching Band played at the inaugural parade for President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, and President Joe Biden.
Along with the Human Jukebox and the Marching Wildcats, the Tiger Marching Band was in the movie “Drumline.” It was part of the Vice Media documentary about the Bayou Classic. In 2019, several members of the band and the dance team, Orchesis, were invited to play at a private event for Beyonce and other guests during Coachella.
Check out the video below to see the World Famed Tiger Marching Band’s show from the 2021 Bayou Classic.
Norfolk State University Spartan Legion Band
The Spartan Legion Band, or “The Legion,” was formed in 1975 and now consists of 250 members and is one of the premier Marching Bands in Norfolk, Virginia.
The Legion utilizes various marching styles, including high-step, strut, glides (corps style), and military style. The members of The Legion were chosen to perform at the Norfolk, Virginia, presidential campaign rally for Barack Obama.
Other notable performances for The Legion were the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution in Philadelphia, Mardi Gras and the Rex Parade in New Orleans, and many battles of the band competitions.
They were the first host of the HBCU Band Battlefest featuring 10 HBCU Marching Bands in San Diego, California, Bermuda, and New York, New York. You can see The Legion on January 2, 2023, in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.
Check out the video below to see The Legion’s Field Show from the 2021 National Battle of the Bands.
8. Prairie View A&M University Marching Storm Band
Prairie View A&M University Marching Storm Band, also known as the Marching Storm, has been a part of the university and can trace its history back to World War II.
Back then, the men were sent to fight in WWII, so the band became an all-female band called the “Co-Eds.” The band has gone by many names like “Sounds of Success,” and the “Funky 50” before a group of students in 1989 came up with the name “The Marching Storm.”
Today, the band has almost 300 members and received many honors during its 80-year history.
The Marching Storm performed at President George W. Bush’s inaugural parade in 2001 and were the featured performers in the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day Game in 2004.
The Marching Storm has also performed in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Super Bowl, and The Tournament of Roses Parade.
As an HBCU marching band, they have participated in the Honda Battle of the Bands competition. In 2022, the CW Network created a TV docuseries about the band called “March.”
Check out the video below to see The Marching Storm’s 2021 homecoming halftime show.
9. Tennessee State University Aristocrat of Bands
Tennessee State University’s Aristocrat of Bands, also called AOB, was founded in 1946 upon the request of the then-president of the university.
The AOB had 100 pieces of music to play after a few weeks of practicing and was initially named the “Marching 100”. The current name comes from a sportscaster at an NFL game who called the band “The Aristocrat of Bands.”
The AOB has performed at many NFL games since 1956 and wowed audiences with their halftime shows. The AOB was invited to march in President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade in 1961. This was significant because this was the first time an HBCU was invited to be part of an inaugural parade. The band was in the 1981 CBS tv movie “The Concrete Cowboy” and performed in the Mirage Bowl in Tokyo, Japan.
The AOB has performed in multiple countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, and states in North America. The Aristocrat of Bands was a featured performance of the inaugural Honda Battle of the Bands in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 2002, the Aristocrat of Bands was named the official band of the Tennessee Titans, becoming the first HBCU marching band to be named an official NFL team band. In 2022, the band was part of the Tournament of Roses Parade.
Check out the video below to see the Aristocrat of Bands perform their field show at the 2021 National Battle of the Bands.
10. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University the Blue and Gold Marching Machine
North Carolina A&T’s Blue and Gold Marching Machine, also known as The Machine, was founded in 1918 with around 50 members. By the 1930s, North Carolina A&T was the only black college with a band. Today, the band has about 200+ members.
In 1946 the band director brought up the idea of dancing on the field during performances, and the band has been dancing ever since.
In the early years, The Machine welcomed majorettes and flag girls in the mid-1960s bringing the band to a higher level of performance. The band played in the Silver Dome in Michigan and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the 1970s.
The band adopted the name “The Blue and Gold Marching Machine” in the 1980s and has grown even more. The band has won the Honda Battle of the Bands, the Defeat the Beat Championship, and became the official band for the Carolina Panthers NFL team.
Sports Illustrated has named The Machine one of the top 10 HBCU bands. The band performed this year in the 2022 National Battle of the Bands.
Check out the video below to watch the Blue and Gold Marching Machine’s performance at the 2022 National Battle of the Bands.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. We only recommend high-quality products that are used and recommended by real musicians. If you use these links to buy something we earn a small commission.