Purdue Band upholds eight decades of tradition at Indy 500
Walking in footsteps of 82 years of band students preceding them, members of the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band takes its own parade lap around the famous 2.5 mile oval track at the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 26, and plays for the race’s opening ceremonies.
Purdue’s band will also be featured in the 500 Festival Parade at noon Saturday, May 25, which begins at North and Pennsylvania and winds its way through the downtown Indianapolis. The broadcast of the parade (available in central Indiana on CBS Indianapolis Channel 8), gives a special feature spot to the joint performance of “God Bless America” by the band and the West Point Glee Club at the beginning of the coverage.
A crowd in excess of 300,000 is expected for the 500 Festival Parade. There are stretches of the parade route that permit open viewing, but tickets can be purchased for preferred seating in the bleachers lining the route. Tickets are $12.50 to $25; call (800) 638-4296.
It was the marching band’s first director, Paul Spotts Emrick, who forged the initial relationship with the Indianapolis 500 in 1919, the race’s ninth year of existence. Always interested in promoting his band and Purdue, Emrick leapt at the chance to be associated with the young race that was quickly establishing an international reputation. At that time the band was a military unit of men enrolled in Reserve Officer Training Corps at Purdue.
“We played for the Indianapolis 500 every year,” recalls Marcus Gilbert, a 1925 graduate who lives in Carmel. “We’d ride down on the Monon railroad or buses the day before, and the boys would get to see the town. The Purdue Band always leads the parade.”
The parade Gilbert refers to is the Parade of Bands that begins at 8 a.m. at the track on race day. Each year Purdue invites bands across the Midwest to participate in the event dominated by high school musicians. In 2002, there are 17 bands participating with Greater Lafayette area represented by the Pride of Tri-County Marching Cavaliers and central Indiana by the Speedway High School “500” Marching Band.
Following a tradition begun 83 years ago, only the Purdue band plays for the opening ceremonies. It will back up the West Point Glee Club in the National Anthem. Following tradition, it will perform “America the Beautiful” with Florence Henderson and “Back Home Again in Indiana” with Jim Nabors.
The 500 Festival Parade was added to the race month activities in the mid 1950s and the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band has appeared in every parade since then.