Tennessee State University

Aristocrat of Bands


In the fall of 1946, after six weeks of practice, a 100-piece marching band took to the field at Tennessee State University and a tradition of excellence was born.

The idea for a show band at Tennessee State University originated with its second president. the late Dr. Walter S. Davis. President Davis selected J. D. Chavis to serve as the first band director. Under Chavis’ leadership, the marching band grew and developed into a premier university band that gave spectacular performances in parades and half-time shows at football games. In 1947 and 1948, the marching band performed in the Washington Classic in Washington, D.C., where top historically black colleges and universities competed for national championships.

Chavis’ tenure as band director ended in 1951 and the baton was passed to Frank T. Greer. Tennessee State University’s distinctive style was further developed under Greer. The band continued to earn invitations to special events.

Four years after Greer began his work the TSU band was invited to perform during the half-time show of a Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams professional football game. The performance was the first of a series of nationally televised half-time shows for the band. It was also the first time a historically black university band had appeared on national television

Between 1956 and 1978. the TSU band performed half-time shows for nine professional football games, including the 1963 National Championship game between the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL. Reportedly, it was during one of these half-time performances that a sportscaster called the marching band from Tennessee State University “The Aristocrat of Bands” Needless to say, the name stuck.

“The Aristocrat of Bands” has also appeared in the Coca’ Cola Circle City Classic in Indianapolis, the Atlanta Football Classic in Atlanta, the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami, the Heritage and Blues Bowls in Memphis and the Grantland Rice Bowl in Wichita Falls, Texas.

In 1961, the TSU band claimed another first for historically black universities when it was invited to march in President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade. One of the students who marched in that parade was Edward L. Graves, who is the present director of “The Aristocrat of Bands” since 1979. Graves has continued to build the legacy. “The Aristocrat of Bands” has shared its characteristic precision and distinctly soulful style with people throughout the country and in foreign lands.

Greer taught us “to dream and to really work hard.” Graves recalled. He taught us “not to be satisfied with just anything. You don’t put a man on the moon without a lot of work.” He instilled those standards in us. He taught us to excel, “to see the BIG PICTURE “.

Students who achieve membership in “The Aristocrat of Bands” adhere to those standards today. Noted as one of the finest and most spectacular university bands in the United States, the Aristocrats are the featured attraction during pre-game and half time performances at all home games and at most out of town competitions.

Still in demand for halftime performances. parades and other special events, the bands special appearances include a spot in the 1981 CBS television movie ” The Concrete Cowboy,” a 1982 ad for WSMV, Nashville’s NBC affiliate, a 1984 performance at the Mirage Bowl football game in Tokyo. Japan, and a performance at Disney World.

This year, the tradition will continue. Audiences will be thoroughly entertained by the band’s unique marching style and musical versatility. A group of vivacious majorettes, The Sophisticated Ladies enhance the dynamic style and SOUNDS of “The Aristocrat of Bands”.

Graves is assisted by Reginald A. McDonald, associate band director, Teddy Hall Jr. and James “Dean” Sexton, assistant band directors, Judy F. Gentry, majorette coordinator, James “Dean” Sexton, director of the Jazz Band, Michelle Allen, office manager to the band, Dr. Cass F.L.Teague, Jr., photographer, James Pitts, instrument technician.

On January 20, 1993 the Tennessee State University marching band marched through the streets of our nations capital and in to the pages of this country’s presidential inaugural history.

For TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands, participation in the 52nd Inaugural Presidential Parade was a return engagement.

It should be noted that since Tennessee State University’s initial appearance in the inaugural parade in 1961 only three bands from historically black institutions have been afforded the honor of marching in the coveted event. Southern University of Baton Rouge, La. march in the inaugural parade of President George Bush. TSU, Southern and Florida A&M Universities participated in the inaugural parade of President Bill Clinton.

3 Comments to “Tennessee State University”

  • The Tennessee State University Aristocrat of Bands performed the halftime show of the Tennessee Titans home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, September 19, 2010 in Nashville’s L.P. Field. The dancers are the Sophisticated Ladies majorette squad. The temperature was in the 90′s and half the crowd from the blue sections was under shade and from the red section was in the air-conditioned club lounge area. The game was a sellout.

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