Mustang Band: Celebrating 100 years of spirit

They are the first students to arrive in the stands at Ford Stadium and the last to leave. Their spirit and traditions rival any campus organization.

Meet the hub of SMU spirit – the Mustang Band, making music for 100 years. The Mustang Band celebrates its centennial at its annual Homecoming performance, Pigskin Revue, on Nov. 3, 2017. Festivities begin at noon in the Mustang Band Hall with a band alumni mini-reunion, followed by the Centennial Celebration at 6:30 p.m. in the Mack Grand Ballroom in Umphrey Lee. Pigskin Revue, a student-produced music, dance and comedy show, begins at 8:15 at McFarlin Auditorium. For tickets and to register, click here.

On a typical fall afternoon, band director Don Hopkins ’82 rolls up his sleeves to lead a practice in the new Mustang Band Hall, dedicated in 2014 in the Dedman Center for Lifetime Sports. Students file down the stairs into the band headquarters where Tucker leads the band into the beginning notes of Sing, Sing, Sing by Benny Goodman.

Band members practice five hours a week in addition to game day commitments. Most band members and the twirler are supported by scholarships. The 75-member Mustang Band prides itself on its uniqueness among other university bands as well as among SMU student organizations.

“The band has always been small,” Hopkins says. “But with all the brass and saxophones, we hold our own.”

Since the 1920s the band has specialized in jazz, dressed in slacks and blazers for football halftime shows and performed music arranged just for the Mustang Band.

“Our only stock arrangement is the national anthem,” says Tommy Tucker ’84, associate band director, who has created hundreds of arrangements beginning in his student band days in the early 1970s. “You may hear the same song, but you won’t hear the same arrangement anywhere else.”

The first Mustang Band was made up of members of the SMU orchestra who formed a band to back up the cheerleaders for the last two football games of the 1917 season. By the 1924 football season, the band had become the leader of SMU school spirit with members sporting knee-high boots and capes. Inspired by the growing popularity of jazz, the Mustang Band became the first college band to march and play jazz and changed its uniform style to slacks and blazers – the beginning of a unique sound and look that continues today. Recognized as the “Best-dressed Band in the Land,” band members can create 32 distinct looks with their uniforms, including the trademark candy-striped jackets.

With its signature sound, the Mustang Band soon attracted fans nationwide, traveling throughout the United States in 1935 on a 12-week summer vaudeville circuit. In 1946, Dallas audiences listened to a weekly Mustang Band concert on WFAA radio. Comedian Bob Hope invited the band to perform with him in his 1983 television special filmed at Moody Coliseum. In 1997, the band’s compact disc recorded with the Light Crust Doughboys garnered several Grammy Award votes. The Mustang Band performed before its most distinguished audiences in 2001 when it played for the inauguration of President George W. Bush and at festivities surrounding the 2013 dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center at SMU.

In honor of its centennial, the Mustang Band is preparing to create a new CD, including all new arrangements of tunes ranging from traditional jazz to current pop tunes. The band’s camaraderie, traditions and dedication continue. Group bonding occurs before classes start in the fall when members arrive on campus early to begin practice. For many, that bond lasts a lifetime. Members of the Mustang Alumni Band practice weekly and perform on The Boulevard before home football games and at basketball games.

Hopkins, who played trombone in the Mustang Bandin the early 1980s, says, “These kids have as much commitment to each other as we did when I was in the band.

–Nancy George