On November 1, 1949, Knoxville Journal sports editor Ed Harris first referred to the UT band as the Pride of the Southland Band in his column Top o’ the Morning. Harris had been to Birmingham for the Alabama game and was singularly unimpressed by Alabama fans’ talk of their Million Dollar Band and what a difficult schedule its members had. Previously that season, he had praised the band in his column for its blackface minstrel show performance on October 22 at the UT vs. TPI game. He also devoted most of the November 4 column to the band, its director, and the practice he attended. The next day, at the Georgia Tech homecoming half time, the band performed dressed in hillbilly costumes. Heart of the Valley, published by the East Tennessee Historical Society, attributes the actual name to the Journal’s correspondent and reporter Bill Anderson, who went on to become city editor of the Chicago Tribune and, subsequently, a member of the Tribune’s Washington Bureau.
A military cadet band was formed in 1869. It was led by a student (cadet) leader and featured a drum major. But the organization had its real beginnings in 1871, when newly appointed Professor Gustav Knabe, UT’s first professor of music, organized a cadet band. By 1876 the band was playing at commencement and for other activities. From 1879 to 1887, Gustav Knabe also led the Cornet Band, which had occasional out-of-town engagements.
In 1889 Knabe’s son, William Knabe, became bandmaster and served until his death in 1914. During his tenure the institution’s small military band is first documented (1902) to have played at a football game (against Sewanee). In 1916 the band, under Director W. H. Crouch, routinely played at football games. The 1920 band performance at football games (played at Wait Field) had a novel beginning. Just as the first note was struck, the section of the bleachers occupied by the band collapsed, and the band members unceremoniously slid down the hill. No one was hurt, and the band played from the sidelines in borrowed chairs. By 1926 a few of the junior and senior members of the band received compensation of $40. In 1927 the band went to Lexington for the Kentucky football game; in 1928 the band went to Nashville for the Vanderbilt game.
In 1935 the university’s ROTC band was made an organization with officers and expanded its scope from football games, dress parades, and the like to a broader scope of performances. The band was all male until 1940, when Martha Carrol and Peggy Calloway joined the group to play lyres and Marjorie Abbott played the marimba. (The band was again all male from 1949 to 1959.) It was transferred from the jurisdiction of the Military Department to that of the Music Department in 1961. Subsequently, it was transferred to the Office of the Chancellor. It returned to being part of the School of Music in July 2013.
The Pride of the Southland Band has marched in all inaugural parades since 1953—except those of John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama—serving as the Honor Band (the first civilian band of the parade, marching just behind the US Army Band) in 1973. In 1985 the band actually played at the downtown Marriott when the inaugural parade for President Reagan was cancelled because of bitterly cold weather—the first time in 152 years the parade had been cancelled.
In March 1949 the band led the parade for the Opening of the Gates, which signified that the city of Oak Ridge was open to the public. In 2002 the band celebrated the 100th anniversary of its marching history, with more than three hundred band alumni joining the near-three hundred current band members during the half-time activities of the November 9 football game against Miami.
During the fall 2013 football season, a controversy arose that centered on the use of a disc jockey during football games and that limited the band’s playing time and selections. The controversy resulted in the administrative suspension of the band director, Dr. Gary Sousa, for the rest of the season and limitation of his access to campus.