11 Of The Greatest And Most Famous College Marching Bands

Written by Dan Farrant

Everyone knows that the action on the field is what matters at a college football game. But, some people overlook the halftime action, as the players are in the locker room, but that’s when the college marching bands shine the brightest.

They provide music throughout the game, playing the school fight song and other pieces, wowing the crowd with their harmony and energizing music.

And like famous bands rocking the airwaves, there are also college marching bands who’ve gained fame. Here we’ve listed 11 of the best college marching bands around. Read on to learn about them!

1. Ohio State University Marching Band

Ohio State’s band isn’t informally the Best Damn Band in the Land for no reason. The group started 13 years after the end of the Civil War as part of the ROTC program. That means the marching band predates the football team.

Elements of the band’s halftime shows and game-day traditions date back to the 1920s, but the band took its current form in 1952.

That year, the band split with the ROTC and became part of the college of music. Nowadays, they play at bowl games, spell out “Ohio” in cursive on the field (the “Script Ohio” as it’s known), and still play “Hang on Sloopy” for cheering fans.

2. Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band

While other bands play modern music in their halftime shows, Texas A&M’s Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band is a strictly traditional military marching band. You won’t hear them play a Beatles song, but John Philip Sousa’s marches are another story.

While A&M started as a military college, it gradually shifted to a more traditional university, which began attracting more students. Since the state of Texas is renowned for its high school music programs, A&M began getting an influx of intensely talented players in the 1970s and on. This allowed for harder music and more intricate shows.

That said since A&M does not offer any music degrees, its band has no music majors in it. Currently, they have about 400 members.

3. Pride Of The Southland Marching Band

The University of Tennessee isn’t the first SEC school to have an exceptional marching band on this list, and it won’t be the last. The Pride of the Southland Marching Band is one of the oldest marching bands, having been founded in 1869.

Over the years, the band has endured many changes, not the least of which was the decision to open membership to women in the 1940s. Currently, the band has more than 300 members and rehearses three days a week during the marching season.

While “Rocky Top” isn’t UT’s official fight song, many people believe it to be since it’s so closely associated with the marching band; they play it often. Additionally, they have appeared in every presidential inauguration but one since 1953.

4. USC Trojan Marching Band

The University of Southern California’s band, also known as the Spirit of Troy and the Hollywood Band, does a lot of things most other bands don’t or can’t. For one, the band—even if it’s just a small unit—plays at every single football game. Not every college sends the band to play at every road game.

The band also has opportunities you don’t get outside of southern Cali—things like playing at the Grammys and the Oscars, appearing at the Summer Olympics and performing with a diverse array of artists, including Beyoncé, Fleetwood Mac, John Williams, Michael Jackson, and Radiohead.

The band also has international acclaim, having performed at athletic events in Australia, Japan, and Brazil—something not all marching bands on this list can boast.

5. Human Jukebox

Southern University and A&M College have a band that may be the most famous thing about the Louisiana school. The Human Jukebox plays marching band renditions of pop music, has performed at six Super Bowls, appeared in music videos, and is half of the Battle of the Bands. 

That annual battle occurs at the Grambling-Southern football game and is one of the few halftime shows that gets national airtime.

The Human Jukebox is one of the only marching bands in the world with a partnership with an athletic clothing company. Joining forces with Starter, the band now sells Human Jukebox–branded apparel on a national scale.

6. GSU Tiger Marching Band

The other half of the Bayou Classic’s Battle of the Bands, the GSU Tiger Marching Band played in the first two Super Bowls, and that was back before the game was even called the Super Bowl.

Since then, Grambling State University’s band has shared the national spotlight with Southern every year. They returned to the Super Bowl in the 1980s and played for President Obama’s first inauguration.

With a membership of about 160, the GSU Tiger Marching Band isn’t the largest on the list, but it’s a formidable unit worthy of being on this list.

7. University of Michigan Marching Band

Under the direction of John Pasquale, the Michigan Marching Band has come a long way since it first consisted of 22 musicians in 1896. By 1929, membership had grown to about 100, and today, the band boasts about 400 members.

The Michigan Marching Band holds Ohio State’s band as a rival every bit as much as the football teams do. And while the band always marches at halftime in that game and many away games, the group has also notched multiple national television appearances and recorded more than a dozen full-length albums since 1972.

8. Million Dollar Band

The University of Alabama’s football team has more national championships than anybody. It’s fitting that the Million Dollar Band is also a stellar outfit.

After an Alabama loss in the 1920s, a sportswriter asked a former player what Alabama had going for. His snarky reply—“A million-dollar band”—quickly stuck as the band’s name.

Coaching legend Bear Bryant often credited the band with helping the Crimson Tide win football games. With his and other coaches’ success, the Million Dollar Band has appeared in the halftime show of more than 50 postseason bowl games.

9. Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band

The University of Oklahoma does a lot of things well. They play football well, produce some spectacular quarterbacks, and they have a shin-kicking marching band.

Dating back to 1904, the Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band fields upwards of 300 band and auxiliary members for halftime shows, and like most other college bands, smaller contingents play at other sporting events like basketball games.

When OU went on a years-long winning streak in the 1950s, the band’s stock rose alongside that of the football team because they got so much exposure just by being associated with such a successful program.

Band members keep track of how many times they play “Boomer Sooner,” the school’s fight song, each football season, and the number is often in the 900s.

10. University of Texas Longhorn Band

Founded in 1900 by a chemistry professor, the University of Texas Longhorn Band (also called Showband of the Southwest) is yet another outstanding program that puts on eye-catching halftime spectacles and has played Super Bowls and presidential inaugurations.

In addition to playing impressive halftime shows, the band also boasted Big Bertha, the largest bass drum in the world, for nearly 100 years. The drum was eight feet in diameter, and upon its 2022 retirement, it was replaced by Big Bertha II, which is bigger than the first at nine and a half feet in diameter.

11. Hawkeye Marching Band

When most schools need something sung, they go to the choir to get it done. But not the University of Iowa. The Hawkeye Marching Band is one of the only bands that sings its alma mater before games—in four-part harmony.

The band has an instrumental version of the song, but their sung rendition is so popular, they rarely break out the instruments for it. They also, for some reason, play the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” at the end of the third quarter of every home football game.

Starting as a military band in 1881, the Hawkeye Marching Band has grown to excel in many marching band styles, including the precision military marching techniques to the more modern glide step.

Summing Up Our List Of The Greatest College Marching Bands

Fall Saturdays can be exhilarating times, what with college football in full effect. And though not everyone appreciates the marching bands—partly because they get far less exposure to national audiences than the football players—these musicians bring something special to every game.

Not only do they add historical value to the colleges they play for, but they also boost morale of the players and fans during games. Seriously, who wouldn’t want a full field of musicians playing songs and cheering for you?

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.