Google defines the term “drum major” as a male leader of a marching band. While historically true, that hasn’t been accurate for nearly 40 years, and excludes women across America who are commanding marching bands right now.
At university sporting events, the drum major serves as second-in-command to the band director and handles everything from conducting to training. The role requires muscle, and the leadership skills to command the respect and attention of hundreds of musicians at any given time. “Their movements are very strenuous,” said Walter Williams Jr., CEO of The National Show Band Association, a network for show-style bands known for their high-stepping halftime performances.
It wasn’t until 1907 that a marching band performed it’s first halftime show at a football game and, even then, bands were still associated with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and included male students in the military, said Gary Smith, who started one of the first training clinics for drum majors in the 1950s. “The makeup of men over women was probably 9 out of 10,” said Smith, of his time as a trainer back then. He is also emeritus band director at the University of Illinois Marching Illini, where in 1977, he appointed the school’s first female drum major. Today, the Marching Illini have three female drum majors and joining them this year is the University of Alabama, who just this month debuted its first all-female drum major squad in the band’s 103-year history.
Here, we’ve rounded up 21 drum majors leading the way. Three selected students from TMCF member-school HBCUs are below.
Taheerah Hansen, 25
Fort Valley State University Blue Machine Marching Band
Hansen has been a drum major at the Georgia institution since 2012. The liberal studies major thinks it’s an honor to lead the group of 60 performers, feeling a little bit like a superhero while in uniform. As for serving in a position historically reserved for males, Hansen said it feels “pretty darn cool.” “It’s respected that we can hang with the best of the guys and even do a better job than them,” said Hansen. “We’re making history.”
Bianca Hunter, 22
Red Sea of Sound at Winston-Salem State University
Hudson is the third woman to be appointed drum major at the North Carolina university, an achievement that has motivated her both on and off the field. “I knew that going for this position would push me far beyond my limits and that I had to by far surpass the males that stood beside me also fighting for the position,” said Hunter. “Serving this male dominated position has never intimidated me, however, it has pushed me to perform and serve the band in a great capacity that I would have never imagined,” she said.
Bria Douglas, 22
Prairie View A&M University Marching Storm
The music education major said one of her favorite things about being a drum major is inspiring young girls. “It is a position many people want and few are chosen for,” said Douglas. “Not many females get this opportunity, especially at a HBCU.” Catch a short glimpse of Douglas in action here.