The Band's Growing Identity
The Band's Growing Identity
As the R.O.T.C. band continued to gain popularity at football games, rallies, concert band concerts, parades, away games, and the multitude of other activities in which they were a part, a rift that had begun in the 1920s between the band and the military department began to widen. Financial strain over providing for the ever demanding organization and varying opinions of the role of the band on campus caused both the military department and the band to question their relationship. It would not be until 1955 that the band officially broke away from the military, but the struggle for independence began in the 1920s and continued for the next several decades. But as it had changed at the end of World War I to the R.O.T.C. band, so again would it change to the Cornhusker Marching Band in the wake of World War II.
A Community Band
From the very first the Cadet band had established itself as an important part of the university and the city of Lincoln, a tradition which the R.O.T.C. band continued. Playing at rallies, parades, radio broadcasts, away games, and community functions, the R.O.T.C. band was popular not only within the local community, but within the midwest.
Chancellor Avery recognized early in the 1920s that the band was not just a military and university organization. "It is well known to the public through its participation in patriotic drives, Ak-Sar-Ben festivities and the like." In 1927 John Philip Sousa awarded the R.O.T.C. band and its director, Billy Quick, with a silver loving cup trophy as recognition of a fine college band and its achievements.
The importance of the band to the student body and surrounding community was made abundantly clear in 1928. The football team was to travel to West Point to face the Army. There was an initial push to send the band but little financial backing available. The band began raising its own funds and was initially unsuccessful, but soon the student body took it upon itself to raise the money to send the band. Local businessmen and some not-so-local businessmen and organizations began sending in money as well. "The value of sending the university band to the Army game is obvious," a Daily Nebraskan article says. "Here is Nebraska’s chance to show the east that we not only have a strong gridiron machine but also a strong student body that is backing their team to the limit." The support of so many eventually raised the money necessary to send fifty men to New York with the football team to represent the University of Nebraska.
This situation would repeat itself in 1940 when the football team travelled to the Rose Bowl. Letters poured into the Chancellor and university requesting that the band be sent along but the letters went unanswered as discussions took place over financing such an endeavor (1). Finally, the pressure of so many alumni, local leaders, students, and football fans forced the hand of the athletic department and the band went to the Rose Bowl with money provided by the athletic department.
As World War I had changed the band, so too did World War II. The war caused the band's numbers to drop drastically, and in order to maintain the band's viability women were allowed to march with the R.O.T.C. band for the first time in its history. "We girls got to march because of the male shortage during and just after the war. We were thus automatically in R.O.T.C. and participated in at least one inspection parade (before visiting officers) a year," recalls JoAnn Kelly Alexander, who marched with the band from 1945-1947.* Despite their valuable contributions to the band during wartime, the R.O.T.C. required the band to become all-male once World War II had ended. One of the concert band veterans, Louis Irene Eddy Alexander, remembers with regret: "My instrument was the Flute and Marching Band, my favorite - despite the ROTC ruling which forbade a 4-year-experienced, but female, marcher like me from performing on the football field at half-time."* When remembering 1946, John D Lind recalls, "That year we had an all male band for the first time in several years." (University of Nebraska, University Archives and Special Collections, Cornhusker Marching Band Collection, Box 13, Band History 1944-1970 Info Sheets)
At the same time, expectations of marching bands were changing across the nation. Football bands were expected to put on creative and flashy routines at halftimes. There was little room for a military band's familiar block marching and tired parade songs. "As football became more complicated, so did marching routines. Gone were the days of parading onto the field, playing several tunes, and marching off (3)," explains a 1970s marching band introduction book. A Daily Nebraska editorial written in 1935 urges similar steps in the band's evolution.
But the presence of women and showmanship were not what the military department was interested in for the R.O.T.C. band. These provided further evidence of the growing differences between the military and the band, differences that would be widened even more when the band continued to be a financial drain upon the military.
As early as 1884, the military department experienced difficulty in providing monetary support for the band program and had to ask the Board of Regents for help providing instruments, music, and a very small salary for the director. Within only a few years the costs of the band had gone up tremendously. There was always a need for more instruments and uniforms for members, and director D. F. Easterday was asking for a salary several times what he had been paid in 1884.
The band which had been created with simple drill duties in mind had become a travel, uniform, music, rehearsal space, and instrument requiring organization. The military was reluctant to continue sinking money into an organization which was acting less as a military band and more as a pep band. Many letters and memos indicate that the military department's pleas for financial aid were growing increasingly familiar to the Board of Regents. In 1901 the band's situation was becoming so dire that the School of Music's Willard Kimball wrote a letter to the Chancellor asking for money for the Cadet band, an unusual occurrence considering the Cadet band was not related to the University's fledging School of Music (1).
As the years went on the band's popularity grew and with this popularity the band saw an increase in membership. The numbers of the band were occasionally so high that there were not enough uniforms to accommodate all of the members. Colonel F. F. Jewett wrote to the Chancellor in 1928 explaining the plight of the military department. "The R.O.T.C. band is used for various functions outside of the military department. It is called on to play for all student rallies, for athletic games, special Sunday concerts, and on various special occasions. It has in large measure lost its identity as only belonging to the Military Department and has become a University organization," he wrote. "As the band has become a University organization it is believed that the entire support of it should not fall to one department." Clearly, the military department was growing tired of the band's constant financial requirements.
Yet ten years later the military department was still largely responsible for the burden that was the R.O.T.C. band program. In 1937, another letter to the Chancellor, this time from Colonel Oury, outlined a creative plan for gaining uniforms that involved government funds rather than entirely military department funds.
While issues over resources and funding went largely unresolved, pressure was mounting for the band to better represent the University of Nebraska in both manner and appearance. After an away trip to West Point for the Nebraska-Army game, the New York News published an article in which it claimed that the Nebraska band "dressed like Western Union messengers." Then in 1935, a surprisingly vicious editorial written in the Daily Nebraskan attacked the R.O.T.C. band for sounding as if it were "on the way to a funeral and not a very important funeral at that." The article held up the Kansas band as a shining beacon of precision and dedication, while in comparison, Nebraska's band appeared in "dull and colorless gray uniforms," and was full of "loafers" and "laggards" who were only in band to get out of military drill requirements. The article called for brighter uniforms and fresh formations and drill, all things which were not in keeping with the military department's vision for the band.
The athletic department eventually began stepping in to pay for travel arrangements for the band, as well as several instruments (1). The Rose Bowl was a monumental landmark in the struggle over band funding, as the athletic department opted to send the entire band to California. It would be a little over a decade later when the band would officially break its ties with the military department.