Established 1898

(re)Founded 2009

Early History

Under the original name of the UC Military Band, The University President William Rainey Harper organized the group in Autumn 1898. The band's first concert was held on December 16, 1898 in an auditorium in Kent Hall.

Amos Alonzo Stagg, football coach and head of the Athletic Department at the time, was eager for a band to support his teams. He incorporated the band into the Athletic Department and provided it with a budget for travel, equipment, and uniforms. The uniforms consisted of maroon sweaters and ties with white shirts and trousers. In cold weather, the bandsmen also wore overcoats and caps.

The band's original primary purpose was to support the football team in their match-ups against other Midwestern and East Coast universities. Typical opponents of the time included such schools as Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern, and other universities known today as football powerhouses. In fact, the University of Chicago has a perfect 4-0 record against Notre Dame in football; the most recent matchup between the two schools took place in 1899.

With a fluctuating membership of 50 to 100 musicians, the band performed field maneuvers in the classic Big Ten style, spelling out letters and words as wells as forming pictures. However, it added its own zany twist to shows with balloons, confetti, and singing along with the more traditional elements of its performance.

The band performed at all home football games at Stagg Field, which stood on the current site of the Regenstein Library. It also travelled to at least one road game each year. In addition to performances at football games, basketball games, and other athletic events, the band put on concerts on a regular basis in Mandel Hall.

For many years, the band possessed permanent rehearsal and storage space underneath the stands of Stagg Field. In 1941 the band moved to new quarters in the basement of the Music Building at 5727 S. University Ave., currently called the Statistics and Mathematics Building.

The UC Band's fate took a dramatic turn in 1939 when the University cancelled intercollegiate football. However, the organization survived as a concert band for several more years. It seems to have disappeared entirely sometime during World War II. The group reappeared in 1955 as a basketball band. Since then, the band has gone through several periods of activity and inactivity.


Big Bertha

The band's most notable and memorable feature was its bass drum. Famous as the world's largest drum and known as Big Bertha, the drum measured eight feet in diameter and required a crew of six members, four to push the drum and two to beat it. The drum rested on a cart supported on airplane tires, and the drumheads were made from the hides of the largest cattle that could be found in the Chicago Stockyards. Big Bertha was so large that it could not fit through the doors of Mandel Hall; thus it could not be used during the band's indoor concerts.

Big Bertha was donated in 1922 by C. D. Greenleaf, the president of C. G. Conn Company, a well-known manufacturer of instruments in Indiana. Greenleaf was a Chicago alumnus and an original member of the band. Along with the drum, he gave 100 instruments to the band, each bearing an engraved copy of the university seal. Big Bertha is currently owned and used on a regular basis by the University of Texas Longhorn Band.

[The Longhorn Band has a webpage devoted to Big Bertha -- Ed.]

The band has had a number of directors throughout its history. The most famous was Harold Bachman, a nationally renowned band leader, who served from 1935 until the band's demise sometime in the early 1940's.

The current pep band does not have a professional director. Student members take the responsibility for musical and administrative leadership. The band continues to perform regularly at intercollegiate matches in football, mens' basketball, and womens' basketball.

Early History

Adam Kissel has a webpage devoted to history of the Band from its founding to circa 1940. Be sure to check out the compendium of early cheers.

Website Archeology

Before the current website was put up, this website was the Band's internet home. It seems to have been last updated in 2000.

Back in 1997, this is what this website looked like. Wait - they had computers in 1997?