The History of the University of Georgia Redcoat Marching Band
It’s a crisp autumn day in Sanford Stadium. The Bulldogs are running off the field to the cheers of over 92,000 fans. There’s a hint of electricity in the air as a massive sea of red and black makes their way to the edge of the sideline. Then comes the introduction that many Bulldog faithful come to expect every Saturday in Athens….
“Keep your seats, everyone…the REDCOATS are coming!
”Originally started in 1905 as a component of the UGA Military Sciences Department, the University of Georgia Redcoat Band has grown in the last 100 years from 20 military cadets to over 400 men and women covering almost every major at the University. The band’s first non-military performance was not at a football game, as many would think, but the 1906 Georgia-Clemson baseball game. For the first twenty five years of its existence, the band members split their time (albeit not evenly) between their studies, their military drill, the band, and the athletic events they were required to play at (including baseball games, which eventually released the band from their duties). It was also during this time that the fight song “Glory Glory to Old Georgia,” adapted by former bandsman and future head of the Music Department Hugh Hodgson, made its debut. At a Georgia Tech game in the late 1900s, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal, not knowing the new Georgia fight song, kept constantly complaining about “the incessant playing of ‘John Brown’s Body.’” (While it is interesting to note that the main Georgia fight song is modeled after “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” that song was actually based on the 1859 song about the abolitionist known for taking over the US arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. And that tune was based on an old Protestant hymn from earlier in the century, which may well have originated in Georgia.)
During this time, the band was also a mainstay at the many parades held in the city of Athens, among them the 1915 Woodmen of the World Convention parade held in Athens, and a parade signaling America’s entry into World War I. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, the band, still under the Military Sciences Department, expanded modestly in size by allowing non-military musicians to join their ranks, spurred on by the eventual introduction of band scholarships. During this time, the band began to make short trips with the football team if funds were available. In preparing for a significant game with Auburn in Columbus, the band needed $700 to make the train trip. They raised the funds by instituting a “tag sale” among the students at the school, which was made more successful by the fact that the female students (which only recently arrived at UGA) were able raise the most money. Not only did they make the money needed to go to Columbus, they had money left over for instrument repairs.
During the 1935 football season, an event took place that publicized the need for a larger, more “appropriate” marching band. In November of that year, Georgia was scheduled to play Louisiana State. Louisiana Governor Huey Long made special plans to take the “Golden Band from Tigerland,” which was by then one of the largest marching bands in the nation, to the game in Athens. Upon seeing the small Georgia band against the massive LSU band, movements among the alumni and athletic association began to fund and equip the band with more instruments and members. While the number dwindled during World War II (as was the case with most colleges and universities at the time), the band was able to regain some of its size before the mid-50’s.
In 1955, the modern era of the band was marked by the arrival of director Roger Dancz and his wife Phyllis who was to become the Director of the Auxiliaries. Before Roger’s arrival, the band was known simply as the Georgia Marching Band. There are several stories speculating how the Redcoats were named. One version tells of an Atlanta reporter writing about a joint concert among the bands of Georgia and Georgia Tech. While the Tech band was known as the “yellow-jacketed band,” the reporter found it necessary to dub UGA’s band as “the red-coated band.” Another involves a contest held among the students to name the band. Regardless of how it came about, the name stuck. And shortly after Roger and Phyllis arrived, the University of Georgia Dixie Redcoat Band was became the official moniker of the band.
Thanks to the arrival of the Danczes, the band began to grow in size and perform more elaborate halftime shows during the 1960s and 70s. In 1959, Phyllis Dancz formed the “Georgettes,” a dance line that performs alongside the band during the pre-game and halftime shows. Later, the Bulldog Banners, now known as the UGA Flagline, was formed to add color and motion to halftime shows.
The 1970’s is thought by many to be the period of greatest creativity in halftime programming. Some of the most memorable Redcoat shows during this period included the “Six Flags” show, celebrating a circus-type atmosphere, and the “Halloween Show,” in which band members dressed in costumes and performed music from horror films. Of all the halftime shows the Redcoats have performed, perhaps none has received more comment than the “Wedding Show” held during the 1978 Georgia-Vanderbilt game in which a couple was actually married in a three-minute ceremony during halftime. Every aspect of the ceremony, from the flowers to the dress to the honeymoon at Lake Lanier was donated by Athens area businesses. It was originally supposed to be a publicity opportunity for the movie “The Wedding” starring Desi Arnaz Jr., but those plans fell through.
The 1970’s also brought about a period of great turmoil for the band. During this time of intense racial dialogue, the band made two changes to address concerns brought about by the era. First, the word “Dixie” was dropped from it’s name as the band became the “Georgia Redcoat Marching Band.” Second, the band voted to drop the selection “Dixie” from its repertoire. This was a decision that was met with harshly divided opinions among those who loved the band, and is still remembered as the most divisive issue in the band’s history. It took nearly ten years for much of the furor surrounding this decision to subside, and for some remains a topic of intense interest.
The Redcoats began the 1980’s as the marching band of the national champions of football. From 1981 to 1983, the Redcoats would make three straight trips to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, including the 1981 Georgia victory over Notre Dame which brought UGA a national title. Along with the steadily improving size and quality of the band, the group experienced a significant instrument upgrade with the purchase of several Conn 20K satin silver Sousaphones. Many of those instruments remain in service today, and the satin silver appearance is a signature of the Redcoat Band.
During the 1990s the band began focusing more on corps style marching, a style that was influenced by the growth in popularity of the drum and bugle corps movement. In 1995, the Redcoats were outfitted in new uniforms with a modern appearance which shed the traditional West Point look. In 2000, the Redcoats became the first band in the Southeastern Conference to receive the Sudler Trophy which recognizes bands who have “demonstrated the highest musical standards and innovative marching routines and ideas, and which has made important contributions to the advancement of the performance standards of college marching bands over a period of years.” This placed the Redcoat Band in the company of previous recipients of the award which included Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, and Illinois.
During the 2004-2005 year, the Redcoat Band celebrated its 100th anniversary with an alumni reception after the Homecoming game, a special halftime show which combined the Redcoat Band and Alumni Band, and the publication of a pictorial history of the Redcoats including photographs that hadn’t been seen in over 50 years.
Today, the band numbers nearly 450 members and is proud to perform for nearly one million people in person each year and countless millions by way of Georgia Football broadcasts. The band performs at all home games, selected road games, and bowl games each season. The Redcoats also perform at numerous high school band exhibitions each year along with the university Homecoming Parade and other community events. The Derbies Pep Band, a group of select upperclassmen musicians and auxiliaries, performs at road games when funds are not available for the full band to attend. The Derbies also attend countless university, civic, and community events on behalf of the Redcoat Band.