—USC — University of Southern California —
As long as USC has been in existence, there has been music in the air. Musical instruction was listed in the university's first catalog in 1880, and the first USC band was started in 1881. A student served as band director, and although the group had no specific functions, it practiced marching on the race track in Agricultural Park (today's Exposition Park).
Over the next few decades, the band existed intermittently, always with a student director. Once the first professional director was hired in 1910, however, the band started to build a reputation for excellence and a high profile. It played for John Philip Sousa in 1924, and in 1932, it formed the nucleus of the band for the Xth Olympiad. It pioneered the stylish uniforms and drills that today are its trademark—innovations that were quickly imitated by college hands throughout the country. It performed at all rallies and games, and in addition to its musicianship, it became known for wacky stunts.
Participation in the band waxed and waned over the next few decades, declining during World War II and again during the 1960s. Perhaps the most significant event in its history was the hiring of Dr. Arthur C. Bartner as director in 1970. Within a few years, Dr. Bartner had transformed an 80-member organization into one of the top ten collegiate bands in the country.
By 1978, it was a 250-member powerhouse with an international reputation and began to amass an extraordinary number of honors. Also known as the "Spirit of Troy," it has appeared in numerous Tournament of Roses parades, several films, the opening ceremonies
for the games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad in Los Angeles, various Super Bowl halftime shows and festivities for the fiftieth anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Normandy, to name a few. It has also appeared on
the Academy Awards ceremony and has
performed for several U.S. presidents. In 1979, it recorded the
hit song "Tusk" with
the rock group
Fleetwood Mac and
saw the recording
Ironically, until the
1920s, the USC band was
largely overshadowed by a
more popular musical
group: the USC men's glee
club. Considered the best
on the West Coast, according to the 1912 student
handbook, the men's glee
club was well-known on the
concert circuit, with an annual tour that included a stop in Chicago. Other early USC musical groups included a women's glee club, a university orchestra and a choral club. The Madrigal Singers were founded in 1939 and the A Cappella Choir in 1945.
Musical excellence took on a new dimension at USC in the mid-1950s, when students across the campus decided to commit their musical talents to philanthropic ends. The cause was Troy Camp, a student-run charity that sent disadvantaged kids to
summer camp. The vehicle was Songfest, conceived by undergraduates Robert F. Jani and Robbie Carroll as
an all-university singing competition that would double as Troy Camp fundraiser. The first three Songfests
were held in the Greek Theater and played to capacity crowds. In 1957, the event was moved to the Hollywood Bowl to meet the growing demand, and
subsequent Songfests attracted celebrity hosts, judges and conductors. By 1959, Songfest was billed as the largest collegiate musicale in America.
Today Songfest is an established tradition, and music remains integral to USC. With an abundance of extracurricular
and course-related musical activities, the
university continues to build upon it rich
musical heritage, creating both a sound
track and a focal point for campus life.