Purdue Band upholds eight decades of tradition at Indy 500
Marching in the footsteps of 85 years of band students preceding them, members of the Purdue "All-American" Marching Band again take center stage at the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 30, when they play for the race's opening ceremonies.
Pop sensation Jessica Simpson, whose fame began on the Christian concert circuit, crossed over into pop, and now flourishes on the MTV reality show "Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica," 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 Flagstar Bank 500 Festival Parade at noon Saturday, May 29, which begins at North and Pennsylvania and winds its way through the downtown Indianapolis. Former NBC news personality Jane Pauley will serve as grand marshall for the parade which includes more than a dozen bands, giant character balloons and a variety of personalities from the Indy 500 drivers to Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, country stars Lee Ann Womack and Josh Turner and soap opera star Peter Reckell.
The 500 Festival Parade was added to the race month activities in 1957 and the Purdue "All-American" Marching Band has appeared in every parade since then.
A crowd in excess of 250,000 is expected for the 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 $27.50; call Ticketmaster at (317) 239-5151.
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, May 30. Each year Purdue invites bands across the Midwest to participate in that event which is dominated by high school musicians. In 2004, there are 23 bands from seven states participating, with bands coming from as far away as Florida and New York. The Greater Lafayette area represented by the Pride of Tri-County Marching Cavaliers from Wolcott and the North White High School Marching Band from Monon.
Other Indiana bands include Cloverdale High School, Cloverdale; Crossroads of America Scout Band, Indianapolis; Culver High School, Culver; Jennings County High School, North Vernon; Rochester High School, Rochester; Speedway High School, Speedway; Taylor High School, Kokomo; Union County High School, Liberty; and Wes-Del High School, Gaston.