The University of South Carolina Marching Band is one of the most well-known college bands in the country. Steeped in rich tradition, “The Mighty Sound of the Southeast” continues to perform fun and exciting music featuring exceptional flags, percussion, and dance units.
The band performs at home in front of over 80,000 cheering fans, travels with the Gamecock football team to out of town games and performs regularly for millions on national television, including an appearances at the 2012 Capital One Bowl and the 2013 Outback Bowl.
The Carolina band began as a student-initiated organization in 1920, when the request to organize a band was granted by the Board of Trustees. However, it was not until September of 1921 that a band with fewer than twenty students actually formed under a Mr. Martin. Several months later, Martin left Carolina and James C. Lanham, a student at USC, assumed the director position through the 1922-23 school year.
In 1923, George Olson was appointed director of the band, a position that he held until 1946. As the first faculty member in charge of the band (Professor Olson was Dean of the School of Commerce), it was Olson’s vision and leadership that established the band as an integral part of the life of the university. Olson’s band typically numbered about fifty members. With the acquisition of uniforms in the school colors and instruments that could be offered for use to participating students, the band increasingly took on the appearance and the sound of a marching band. During the Olson years, especially during World War II when the all-male band lost many of its members, females were allowed to join the band, first as majorettes and then as marching members.
After World War II, the band began to develop more as a “show” band, with increasingly elaborate half-time shows. There were four different directors between 1946 and 1959. Numbers continued to increase, and by the end of the 1950s the band had doubled in size.
The appointment of James D. Pritchard as band director in 1959 effectively created the style of the band as it is today. Though a regimental marching band, Pritchard brought back the majorettes and feature twirlers, who had been absent from the shows of the preceding few years. Pritchard’s many accomplishments included the organization and naming of the Coquettes, the acquisition of a recording studio and more centralized storage and practice areas, and with lyrics from football coach Paul Dietzel, the selection of a new fight song, “Step to the Rear.”
Ralph Wahl succeeded Pritchard as director of the marching band, continuing the regimental marching style. His four-year tenure featured a combination of exciting and crowd-pleasing shows. He was succeeded by Thomas O’Neal, who continued the traditions of his predecessors.
James K. Copenhaver succeeded O’Neal in 1976, and he held the position of Director of Bands until his retirement in 2010. Under his leadership, the University of South Carolina Marching Band grew both in size and quality of performance. USC joined the Southeastern Conference (SEC) on September 25, 1990, bringing significant change and publicity to the program. In 1995 David O’Shields was hired as USC’s first Director of Athletic Bands. Subsequent directors of the Carolina Band have been George Brozak (2006-2009) and Steve McKeithen (2009-2010). In 2011 Dr. Rebecca Phillips was appointed Director of Athletic Bands and James Taylor was appointed Assistant Director of Athletic Bands.
The current Carolina Band numbers 325 students representing over 60 majors and 19 states. As it has done for over 90 years, The Carolina Band entertains fans, serves the community in a variety of performance activities, represents the University and State of South Carolina on a national stage, and provides a musical education for thousands of Carolina students.