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Bands and Baseball at the University of Illinois, Circa 1900

December 6, 2016

The band program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has long been associated with performances at athletic events, dating back many years before the creation of separate bands for concert and marching purposes. There are records of the band performing at numerous festive university occasions including parades, convocations, battalion exhibitions, and gymnasium/calisthenic class demonstrations as early as the 1870s.[1] In the 1890s, there are many mentions of the band’s spirited attendance at baseball games in the campus newspaper, The Illini. The April 24, 1896 issue of The Illini describes a game between Michigan and Illinois, when “The grandstand was a mass of bright color, while the east side of the grounds was thronged with carriages gaily bedecked, one of them containing a burlesque band which tried to discourse sweet music.”[2]

 

With baseball the dominant sport on the Illinois campus,[3] it was not until 1897 that the band was reported to have performed at a football game.[4] When the Illinois baseball team won the “championship of the west,” the band led the excited throngs of students and faculty to and from the train depot to welcome the team back.[5] The band continued to perform at baseball games well into the first years of the twentieth century, with football taking on a more prominent role closer to 1910.[6]

 

The University of Illinois Band on Illini Field, undated.

Photo from the A.A. Harding Papers, Sousa Archives,

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

 

Albert Austin Harding, the legendary first Director of Bands at the University of Illinois, was a member of the university band program as a student, enrolling while engaged as an engineering major in 1902. During Harding’s time as a cornetist in the band, and during in his early days on the faculty, the band would have been present at many baseball games, often also joining in massive parades before and after. Harding’s time as a student occurred during the zenith of baseball’s popularity at the University of Illinois; the game was referred to on campus as the “King of Sports,” flourishing under baseball coach and athletic director, George M. Huff.[7] Huff relished having band music at baseball games,[8] seating them in their own reserved section in the east or west stands, away from the catcher. The bass drum often sounded appreciation for excellent play on the field, and the players were said to have enjoyed having the bands present. According to Cary Clive Buford’s history, We’re Loyal To You, Illinois,

 

The Band frequently played a stirring dash of something, perhaps “A Hot Time in the Old Town To-night,” at such breath-taking moments. Above all, the band did its bit at the usual seventh inning “stretch.” It aided, mightily, in the excitement of baseball in those delightful May days on Illinois Field.[9]

 

Massive crowds, exhilarating parades through the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana, and even the presence of visiting bands[10] would be major parts of the University of Illinois baseball experience for much of the early twentieth century.

 

 

 

Footnotes:

 

[1] Peter James Griffin, “A History of The Illinois Industrial University/University of Illinois Band 1867-1908,” (PhD. diss., University of Illinois, 2004), 55.

 

[2] Griffin, “A History,” 69-70.

 

[3] Cary Clive Burford, We’re Loyal To You, Illinois: The Story of The University of Illinois Bands Under Albert Austin Harding For 43 Years, (Danville, Illinois: The Interstate, 1952), 20-21.

 

[4] Griffin, “A History,” 72.

 

[5] Ibid., 75.

 

[6] Ibid., 88.

 

[7] Burford, We’re Loyal To You, Illinois, 100.

 

[8] Ibid., 23.

 

[9] Ibid., 102.

 

[10] Burford notes a particular game when Northwestern’s band took the trip from Chicago to cheer on their baseball team. See Burford, We’re Loyal To You, Illinois, 102.

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