Walking in the footsteps of 84 years of band students preceding them, members of the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band takes center stage at the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 25, when it plays for the race’s opening ceremonies.
Daniel Rodriguez, the New York City policeman who’s risen to celebrity status
as a singer in the wake of 9/11, will sing “The Star Spangled Banner”
with the band. Following tradition, Florence Henderson will join the band “America
the Beautiful” and Jim Nabors will sing “Back Home Again In Indiana.”
Purdue’s band will also be featured in the 500 Festival Parade at noon Saturday, May 24, which begins at North and Pennsylvania and winds its way through the downtown Indianapolis. Country legend Wynonna Judd will serve as grand marshall for the parade that includes 16 bands, 20 celebrities including Purdue football coach Joe Tiller, and six giant character balloons. In central Indiana, the parade will be broadcast on WISH-TV, Channel 8, and nationally by ESPN.
A crowd in excess of 250,000 is expected for the 500 Festival Parade. There are stretches of the parade route that permit open viewing, but tickets can be purchased for bleacher seating, reserved chairs or VIP spots in the TV zone lining the route. Tickets range from $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 26 bands from three states 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.
Other Indiana bands include Concordia Lutheran High School, Fort Wayne; Crossroads of America Scout Band, Indianapolis; Bellmont High School, Decatur; Bloomington High School, Bloomington; Corydon Central High School, Corydon; Culver High School, Culver; Griffin High School, Griffin; Knox High School, Knox; Lincoln High School, Cambridge City; Northwood High School, Nappanee; Jennings County High School, North Vernon; New Prairie High School, New Carlisle; Tri Central High School, Sharpsville; Whitko High School, South Whitley; Taylor High School, Kokomo; Tri-County High School, Wolcott; and Woodlan High School, Woodburn.
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.