The WVU Marching Band was formed 114 years ago in 1901 as an all male ROTC Band of 8 members with Walter Mestrezat serving as the band’s first director. Since every male attending the University at that time was required to take Military Science (ROTC), the Military Band provided the appropriate music for the military revues and parades. They also marched at football halftimes, at major community celebrations and parades, and for important campus events, always in strict military style. Since the instruments and equipment were owned by the federal government, their use was restricted to military functions.
In 1925, a group of 11 non-ROTC males were allowed to join the band, but were not permitted the same monetary benefits as those enrolled military band members. Feeling that this was an unfair practice, the 11 decided to form their own marching band. This “rebel” band of musicians wanted to also perform at halftime and did in fact receive permission from Director Mestrezat and the athletic director. However, when then WVU President Frank Trotter heard about the possibility of two bands, he moved quickly to rectify this situation. The “rebel” group had to first become a legitimate student organization to even be recognized. The group quickly pledged a Greek fraternity and formed what is now WVU’s Omicron Chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi. It wasn’t until years later that the two bands merged into one true University Marching Band.
To increase membership in the University Band, both WVU’s Military Department and the School of Music agreed that the band should be recognized as an official WVU music organization. This change worked to the advantage of music majors who could now qualify, upon recommendation of the band director, for the remission of certain university fees. By including music majors, the band would then also serve as a laboratory experience for Music Education majors who were prospective band directors.
After serving for 37 years as its director and increasing the band’s size to approximately 70 members, Mestrezat stepped down as director and Bernard McGregor assumed the position in 1938. McGregor served a 13-year span as the band’s director, but was on leave for one year due to his military duty in World War II. During that year, Clifford Brown, who later became assistant dean of the College of Creative Arts, served as the band’s director on an interim basis.
The modern era for the Mountaineer Marching Band began in the 1950's and 1960's with Larry Intravaia and Budd Udell serving as the directors. Two other gentlemen, Richard Strange and Frank Borkowski, also served as marching band directors during this time - each serving for one year. Outstanding arrangements and creativity began to bring recognition to the group. Both of the University's fight songs, “Fight Mountaineers” and “Hail West Virginia” were arranged for the band by Budd Udell and are, in fact, the same arrangements the band plays today. In 1970, Gerald Zimmerman served a one-year appointment as the band’s director.
In 1971, Don Wilcox came to WVU as Director of Bands. During the 1970’s, the WVU Marching Band experienced rapid growth and impressive development, during which it more than tripled in size, gained a national reputation, and saw major changes in attitude, desire, and dedication. For his first year, Wilcox inherited an all-male band of 88 members. This membership changed in 1972 when Wilcox encouraged women to join the program for the first time. During the early ‘70’s, the band performed at several prestigious events such as area NFL games and two Peach Bowls in Atlanta. The phrase “The Pride of West Virginia” was first used by the 1975 Peach Bowl announcer; eventually it became the band’s official nickname.
The middle and late 1970’s saw a new set of uniforms and a steady increase in membership. Because of the unsurpassed pride and desire for high performance standards, the band grew to 280 members by the end of the decade. Several "highs" were achieved during this time with trips to Kentucky, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, and New York City. The ‘79 Band set the highest standards yet, and ended the season with a very special "Good-bye to Mountaineer Field" show as Old Mountaineer Field saw its last football game.
The 1980's opened with a new stadium, a new football coach (Don Nehlen), and a marching band of over 300 members. Throughout the ‘80’s and the ‘90’s, the band achieved many new levels. Not only did the band introduce two new sets of uniforms to the delight of Mountaineer fans during this time, but it also served as host to several events including summer shows by Drum Corps International and many annual Eastern Regional Competitions of Bands of America. Because of the continued success of the football team, the band also had the opportunity to travel to many exciting bowl games throughout the country, including the Peach Bowl, Hall of Fame Bowl, Bluebonnet Bowl, Sun Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Carquest Bowl, and Gator Bowl!
During these decades, the band traveled to almost every county in West Virginia. This increased statewide exposure, along with its participation in the University sponsored “WVU Days” program, the annual “KeyNotes” concerts, and its continuing off-campus performances, led to the WVU Band’s growing recognition during the 1990’s as an ambassador throughout the state of West Virginia. The band also traveled during these years to several regular season games at sites that included Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Syracuse, and Purdue. In 1995, the band expanded its recordings to include their first compact disc.
Arguably the single-most important event in the history of the WVU Band’s first century was in 1997 when the band was selected as the recipient of the John Philip Sousa Foundation’s “Sudler Trophy.” This prestigious award honored the WVU Band as the nation’s outstanding collegiate marching band for that year! The Sudler Trophy recognized the long-standing tradition of dedication, commitment, and pride by the band’s present and past members, staff, and directors. The trophy was awarded by the officers of the John Philip Sousa Foundation at the 1997 Homecoming game with over 500 members of the Alumni Band joining the 330-member WVU Band for this special presentation.
At the end of the 1997 “Sudler Season,” and after 27 years as the marching band director, Don Wilcox promoted Assistant Director John Hendricks, making him the 10th director of the WVU Marching Band. Under John Hendricks’ leadership, the 1998 WVU Marching Band continued achieving milestones by being the largest band in the University’s history at that time with over 380 members! New standards of performance excellence were achieved by the bands of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s with their high energy performances of Robert W. Smith’s “The Ascension,” David Holsinger’s “To Tame the Perilous Skies,” and “Abram’s Pursuit,” and David Gillingham’s “With Heart and Voice.” The band traveled to several away games including those in Charlotte (NC), Cincinnati (OH), College Park (MD), Blacksburg (VA), and Notre Dame (IN). During this time, the group also traveled to the Insight.com Bowl, the Music City Bowl, the Continental Tire Bowl, and twice to the Gator Bowl.
Besides the start of a new era of WVU football with Coach Rich Rodriguez, the 2001 season was very special for the WVU Band with the celebration of its 100th anniversary. The culmination of the centennial festivities occurred at Homecoming, when the band was joined by over 500 members of the Alumni Band for a rousing pregame tunnel entrance, which soon spread to cover the entire field! The 850-member mass band closed this special anniversary halftime show with one of the most popular halftime selections in the WVU Band’s library - “Walk Him Up the Stairs/Old Man River.”
At the end of the 2004-2005 academic year, Don Wilcox retired after a prestigious 34-year career at WVU. John Hendricks replaced Wilcox as WVU’s Director of Bands and Assistant Director Jay Drury was named the 11th director of the WVU Marching Band. During the 2005 season, the WVU Band performed on the grounds of the US Capitol as part of the national “Constitution Day” festivities, as well as at WVU's first BCS Bowl Game, the Nokia Sugar Bowl, in Atlanta, Georgia. The 2006 season featured a brand-new set of uniforms, a record-breaking "Band Aid" fundraising campaign by the WVU Foundation, and a Gator Bowl victory with a second consecutive top-ten finish for the WVU Football team. 2007 was also a successful season for the band as the WVU Foundation instituted the "Pride Travel Fund" to help defer the cost of band travel. The group performed in several locations around the country, including at the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, AZ where the Mountaineers defeated Oklahoma under then interim head coach Bill Stewart and finished in the top-ten for a third consecutive season!
The 2008 season had the distinction of seeing the largest WVU Marching Band ever, as the band topped 390 members as band camp began. A great trip to New York City and the UConn game highlighted the regular season, as well as a 4th consecutive bowl victory for the Mountaineers and sharing the final game with WVU quarterback Pat White. The 2009 season featured another outstanding 370+ member band and featured a trip to SEC country to play the Auburn Tigers in Alabama and concluded with an 8th consecutive bowl appearance as the band performed in Florida at Universal Studios in Orlando and in Jacksonville as part of the 2010 Gator Bowl. The 2009 season also marked the end of an era for the band’s old “crow’s nest” as a new “state-of-the-art” rehearsal tower has been constructed at the band practice site. In 2010, the band once again traveled extensively, with the highlight being a trip to the LSU game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and a visit to New Orleans; the longest regular-season trip in WVU Band history at that time. A visit to Orlando, FL for the Champs Sports Bowl, including another performance at Universal Studios, was the band's 9th consecutive bowl trip and topped off another successful season for "The Pride."
The 2011 season marked the first season of WVU Football under new Head Coach Dana Holgorsen and the final season for WVU as a member of the Big East Conference. Highlights for the band included final conference game trips to Cincinnati and Rutgers, which included a visit to New York City. With the success of the 2011 WVU Football Team, the band ended the season with an exciting trip to Miami, FL for WVU’s 10th consecutive bowl game and 3rd BCS Bowl victory as the Mountaineers defeated the Clemson Tigers in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl! 2012 marked the inaugural season for WVU in the Big XII Conference, and featured home games with Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU, Kansas, and Kansas State at Mountaineer Field. The band traveled to Washington, D.C. to perform at FedEx Field, the home of the NFL's Washington Redskins, for the WVU vs. James Madison Game. The season concluded with a trip to the band's 11th consecutive bowl game at the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City at Yankee Stadium. The 2013 Season featured the band's first trip to a Big XII conference school for the game against Oklahoma and a big home victory over No. 11 ranked Oklahoma State! 2014 featured a trip to Atlanta for the kickoff game vs. Alabama and to Maryland for the Mountaineers’ big win over the Terrapins. Both trips featured combined band performances as “The Pride” shared the field with The Alabama “Million Dollar Band” and the “Mighty Sound of Maryland.” The band also enjoyed a fun trip to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN to close out the season.
Throughout its 114-year history, the Mountaineer Marching Band has grown and evolved into an active, high-spirited organization with a great tradition and national exposure. To the citizens of the state of West Virginia (and beyond), the Marching Band exemplifies music at WVU. The esprit de corps of the group, its tradition of excellence in performance, and the enthusiastic audience response to the sight and sound of the band have brought recognition to “The Pride of West Virginia” throughout the country! The group continues on in its second century firmly established as one of the great university marching bands in the nation.