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 the Chicago Bears -vs- the Los Angeles Rams professional football game. The performance was the first in a series of nationally televised half-time shows for the band, a series that continues today. 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. 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.
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 was the Director of Bands from 1979 to 2014. The band has also marched in the 1993 and 1997 inaugural parades of President Bill Clinton. The Aristocrats were the first collegiate band to participate in the 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame Parade in Canton, OH and the 2015 Novant Health Thanksgiving Day Parade in Charlotte, NC.
The Aristocrat of Bands has also appeared in the Mirage Bowl in Tokyo, Japan, the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami, the Blues Bowl and Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis, the Circle City Classic in Indianapolis, the Atlanta Classic in Atlanta, the Grantland Rice Bowl in Wichita Falls, Texas, and the 2002 inaugural Silver Dollar Classic in Las Vegas.
The band has appeared in movies, television commercials, the music video for “Magic Town” by Marty Stuart and the 2005 CMT Music Awards with country music duo Big and Rich. They were featured in the 2000 CBS All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 2003 the band was named the official Spirit Band of the Tennessee Titans National Football League franchise. In 2016 the band performed on the White House lawn at a reception honoring the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The Aristocrat of Bands has shared its characteristic precision and distinctly soulful style with people throughout the country and in foreign lands. This year the 260-piece band will perform in Charlotte, NC; Memphis, TN; Tampa, FL; and a host of other cities throughout the southeast.
The Aristocrat of Bands is currently under the direction of Dr. Reginald A. McDonald, assistant directors Mr. James Sexton, Mr. Larry Jenkins and Mr. Andre Newsom; majorette coordinator Ms. Laverne Brown; flag coordinator Ms. Michelle Allen; and drum major coordinator/announcer Mr. Jerry Davis.