A Legacy That Continues


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 a Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams professional football game. The performance was the first of a series of nationally televised half-time shows for the band. 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, including the 1963 National Championship game between the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL. 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.

"The Aristocrat of Bands" has also appeared in the Coca’ Cola Circle City Classic in Indianapolis, the Atlanta Football Classic in Atlanta, the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami, the Heritage and Blues Bowls in Memphis and the Grantland Rice Bowl in Wichita Falls, Texas.



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, Director of Bands from 1979 to 2014. "The Aristocrat of Bands" has shared its characteristic precision and distinctly soulful style with people throughout the country and in foreign lands.

Greer taught us "to dream and to really work hard." Graves recalled. He taught us "not to be satisfied with just anything. You don’t put a man on the moon without a lot of work." He instilled those standards in us. He taught us to excel, "to see the BIG PICTURE ".

Students who achieve membership in "The Aristocrat of Bands" adhere to those standards today. Noted as one of the finest and most spectacular university bands in the United States, the Aristocrats are the featured attraction during pre-game and half time performances at all home games and at most out of town competitions.

Still in demand for halftime performances. parades and other special events, the bands special appearances include a spot in the 1981 CBS television movie " The Concrete Cowboy," a 1982 ad for WSMV, Nashville’s NBC affiliate, a 1984 performance at the Mirage Bowl football game in Tokyo. Japan, and a performance at Disney World. The band would later return to Washington, D.C. in 1993 and 1997 for the Inaugural Parades of President Bill Clinton.

In 2022, the Band marched further into the history book of Firsts when their album, The Urban Hymnal, won "Best Gospel Roots Album", beating out the likes of Willie Nelson and the Gaither Family Band. This win led to this first: the first marching band of ANY kind to ever earn a Grammy!


This year, the tradition will continue. Audiences will be thoroughly entertained by the band’s unique marching style and musical versatility. A group of vivacious majorettes, The Sophisticated Ladies enhance the dynamic style and SOUNDS of "The Aristocrat of Bands".

Dr. Reginald A. McDonald currently serves as Director of Bands. He is assisted by Mr. James "Dean" Sexton, Assistant Director and Director of the Jazz Ensembles; Dr. Sean Daniels, Assistant Director and Percussion Instructor; Mr. Larry Jenkins, Assistant Director; Ms. Laverne Brown, Majorette Coordinator; Mr. Jerry Davis, Drum Major Coordinator; Ms. Michelle L. Allen, Office Manager; Mrs. Melva Townsend, Senior Office Assistant; and Mr. James Pitts, Instrument Repair Technician.