The Husky Marching Band enters 2023 in its 94th season. Since 1929, the world famous Husky Band has been entertaining audiences from the shores of Lake Washington, to Australia, China, Ireland, Japan, and even Norway. Loyal UW Alumni and other band followers love to sing along to the University of Washington fight song “Bow Down to Washington,” or “Tequila!” which is known to Husky Band’s signature song.
The first band at the University of Washington was started after two years of exhaustive efforts to establish a campus-wide marching band. The first rehearsal was held on Tuesday, March 5, 1901 at the University Armory. Students who participated in the band were permitted to miss compulsory military drill when it conflicted with practice. Don Myer, the bandmaster of the Seattle Military Band, led the first group.
In 1929, Walter Welke organized the official ‘Husky Marching Band.’ Starting with an initial membership of just 34, Welke worked to quickly build the size of the band. The ensemble consisted of 70 members just two years later. The new Husky Marching Band took over the ROTC band’s duties of performing at football games. Under the direction of Welke, the band adopted its current ‘high-stepping’ style of marching and became an innovator in the combination of on-field drill and musical performance. It was also noted as being one of the few bands on the west coast that was composed entirely of University students, a point of pride in the newly formed ensemble.
By 1940, the band had reached 144 members. However, the outbreak of war the following year took a heavy toll on the band’s membership, with many students serving overseas in defense of the Union and the University. Welke retired as marching band director in 1956 after nearly 30-years of uninterrupted service to Washington. Bill Cole, a 1946 graduate of the University of Illinois, replaced him.
After a string of losing seasons for the Huskies, things were pretty quiet in the student section of Husky Stadium by the late 60’s. However, the 1970’s saw spirit return with a whole new style when Rob Weller, the former co-host of “Entertainment Tonight,” made his debut as Yell King. Capturing student energy with new cheers and an abundance of wit and enthusiasm, Weller brought new life to Husky Stadium. Weller, and former band director Bill Bissell, are credited with creating “The Wave” at the Washington Homecoming game in 1981.
Succeeding Cole following his retirement in 1970 was Bill Bissell. One of the great showmen among college band directors, Husky crowds watched Bissell’s bands recreate the Mt. St. Helens eruption, stage horse races, and wear outrageous costumes. In addition to his duties with the Husky Band, Bissell was also placed in charge of commencement and served as an administrator for the Alumni Association during his time at the University of Washington.
Since its inception in 1929, the Husky Band has gone through many changes, but still strives for a high degree of musicality, precision marching, and the pinnacle of Husky spirit and pride. The current director, Dr. J. Bradley McDavid, is the Husky Band’s fourth Head Director. He follows in a long history of true and dedicated Huskies to accept the reins.
The Husky Band appeared in the 1996 Disney film “The Sixth Man.” Other special performances include the 1995 and 2002 Wheel of Fortune Collegiate Tournament of Champions and the Key Arena Opening Night, which included a performance with the Seattle Symphony. The Husky Band has also made appearances on the USS Kittyhawk (1995), USS Constellation (1996 and 1999) and the USS Nimitz (2001).
The Husky Band has also performed with the Seattle Symphony a number of times, most notably in 2003, when the band joined the symphony in performing the closing movement of the “1812 Overture” during the Symphony’s Opening Night Gala at Benaroya Hall.
In the last few years, the Husky Band has also been fortunate enough to send bands to many UW sporting events. The band represents the University at athletic events such as football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball and gymnastics. In 2004-2005, pep-bands performed at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Sweet 16 in Albuquerque, NM, as well as the Women’s Volleyball Final Four in Long Beach, CA.
In addition to supporting Husky Athletics, the band prides itself in its musicality and has traveled internationally to showcase its musicality and unique Husky spirit. During the summer of 1998, a portion of the band traveled to Sydney, Australia and performed at many famous sites including the Sydney Opera House. The Husky Band South Pacific Tour also included stops in Fiji and New Zealand. The summer of 2001 saw the Husky Band travel to China, where band members performed Husky favorites on the steps of the Great Wall along with other sites throughout China. During the summer of 2005 the band traveled to Scandinavia with stops in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, where they were the featured band at the annual Rebild Danish-American Independence Day celebration. In addition, this Fall, the Husky Band will be sending a 90-piece contingent to Japan for the Midousuji International Festival in Osaka.
Raising the Flag in Husky Stadium
At every home football game, fans are treated to a flag-raising ceremony unique to Husky Stadium—one that always stirs a patriotic heart. As the brass and percussion sections of the Husky Band form a flagpole the width of the field (52 ½ yards), the woodwind sections carry out and unfurl and United States flag that measures 45′ by 75′, accompanied by a stirring arrangement of America the Beautiful. Once the flag is unfurled, the band plays The Star-Spangled Banner. The enormous flag was made specifically for the Husky Band.
This special ceremony was the idea of former Husky Band Director Bill Bissell (1970-1993) and former Assistant Director Bruce Caldwell (1965-1981). It debuted in 1978, using a wool flag that was also used for the University’s commencement ceremonies. Bissell would have two flag ceremonies prepared for each game; one for good weather which would allow for the use of the United States flag, and one for inclement weather, which did not involve the large flag. It was not decided which ceremony to use until the morning of the game.
In 1981, a Husky Booster Club donated the money to purchase the present all-weather flag, and the band has used it at every home game since. The Husky Band has also performed this ceremony at the Sun Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Rose Bowl.
The Husky Band Uniform
Since 1980, the Husky Band has been proud to wear the rich gold lamé and dark purple uniform to every game. Each uniform is hand-made and great pride and care is dedicated to the upkeep. The uniform is designed to complement the traditional high-step marching style, in which the legs are brought up to form a ninety-degree angle with the knee, creating a profile resembling the shape of a chair (a “chair step”).
The uniform was updated in 2002, a slight change in the regal uniform worn for the previous 22 years. The new uniform was consistent with styling of older uniforms. The front sports a large purple logo-‘W’ on a white background outlined with gold. The sleeves have ‘Huskies’ embroidered on either side and the University of Washington appears on the left shoulder.
The current style was introduced for the 2013 season, with the front of the jacket featuring a “W” on the left side with gold buttons down the front. The left sleeve is white with the University of Washington emblem. On the right sleeve, which is the iconic dark purple, the Husky Band logo symbol appears.
The pants have one long gold lamé stripe running down the outside of each leg. Topping off the uniform is the traditional shako with a gold plume. The famous “W” outline on the back of the uniform is still there—an always recognizable mark of the Husky Band.