The Beginnings of the UofL BandPosted: March 11, 2015
by James Procell
The University of Louisville Band began in 1928 when E.J. Wotowa came to the University of Louisville from Male High School to teach music. He recruited musicians for his all-male band by offering college credit for participation in the ensemble. Robert Worth Bingham, a local newspaper owner, also provided funding for the band. In the Fall of 1933, the UofL band began performing at football games. Shortly after, Wotowa stepped down as director, and was followed by a string of other successful directors. In 1937, the band received a standing invitation to play My Old Kentucky Home at the Kentucky Derby. To this day, the band continues to attend the Derby and perform the song to an audience of millions.
In 1938, Ernest Lyon was hired as director of the band. Though World War II caused a decline in the band’s activity, he worked very hard to resurrect the program in the early and mid-1940s. In 1947, UofL president John Taylor gave the rebuilding effort a boost. He set up an independent Division of Bands, and Lyon was allotted a large number of $50 per semester scholarships to encourage musicians to join the band. Under Lyon’s direction, the band quickly grew to over 100 members, and included female members for the first time. In 1947, the band travelled to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to attend the UofL vs. Southern Miss. football game. The band, previously known as the “Best Dressed Band in Dixie,” had to abandon that title after it was discovered that another university band held claim to the title. The band then became known as the “Marching Cardinals,” a title that it still holds today.
The late 1940s through the early 1950s were a particularly active time for the band. Fans at Manual and Parkway Stadiums were treated to spectacular halftime shows, including amazing twirling performances by Hilda Gay Mayberry, who was named the nation’s best majorette in 1952. Outside of the marching field, the concert band commissioned many new works via the work of Ernest Lyon and the newly-formed music fraternity Pi Kappa Omicron, which was founded at the University of Louisville. Works commissioned by the fraternity include Vincent Persichetti’s Psalm for Band and William Schuman’s Chester, amongst many other works which are now considered standard repertoire for concert bands.
The photos are from the music library’s UofL Historic Band Collection, which includes hundreds of photographs, clippings, recordings, and other early band memorabilia. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the band or this wonderful collection, please contact music librarian James Procell.