The Pride is back

Campus band turns 125, 

The Pride of the Dakotas starts 50th season

One student group might arguably have one of the most decorated and colorful histories across campus, and it’s none other than The Pride of the Dakotas. This year marks 125 years of band on campus, which has been achieved through the dedication and hard work of hundreds of students and faculty according to Kevin Kes- sler, the current director of athletic bands.

The band has performed at world fairs, inaugural ceremonies and for royalty.

In 1939, just over 76 years ago, the band at South Dakota Agricultural College played for the King and Queen of England.

Invited by the Winnipeg Royal Welcome Week Committee, the marching band traveled to Canada to perform for King George VI and Queen Consort Elizabeth. This was the first time a reigning British monarch vis- ited North America.

At the time, the band was 116 people strong and led by Carl Christensen. The group jumped at the opportunity and headed to Winnipeg, Canada.

In addition to performing for the mon- archs, the group won the competition against the other 19 bands present at the ceremony. Their prize was $50, which the band donated to the college to build Pugsley Hall, which was supposed to be the Student Union at the time.

It was a big deal.

There is no single reason why the band was continuously selected for national per- formances, but Kessler offers up one explanation.

“The band was known as being exciting, entertaining, energetic and they just had a reputation about them,” Kessler said.

But the very beginnings of band at SDSU can be traced back 125 years to 1890. It was at this time the South Dakota Board of Re- gents passed a resolution stating a military band could be organized for college benefits. Not much later in 1904, the band was invited to one of its first national affairs: the World’s Fair in St. Louis. The band traveled with the Cadet Battalion. They received free passes and room and board into the fair for 10 days.

1904 also marked the first documented evidence that the band performed at a football game versus none other than the University of South Dakota.

Kessler estimated that the very first band on campus had somewhere between 10 and 15 members, but by the time the band per- formed for the British monarchs in 1939, the organization had over 116 members.

The band continued to thrive, slowly growing.

It was in 1962 that the band started gaining even more national exposure by performing during Minnesota Vikings football games. The band was approached by an entertainment director for the National Foot- ball League to perform and the director at the time was excited for the opportunity.

After convincing campus officials, includ- ing President Hilton M. Briggs, the band started making trips to perform for the Vikings once every season for 23 years.

Up until this time, the band was known as the South Dakota State University marching band, but that all changed during a half- time show of a football game in 1966.

One of the announcers referred to the band as The Pride of the Dakotas and the name stuck. It was first seen on the uniforms in 1999 and copyright protected in 2005.

This year marks the fiftieth season of the marching band known as The Pride.

The next time the group made a national debut was in 1981 in the Inaugural Parade for President Ronald Reagan.

The invite was sent via telegram naming The Pride as one of the “outstanding bands of Middle America.” SDSU President Sher- wood Berg graciously sent a telegram back accepting the invitation to participate in the Inaugural Parade for Ronald Reagan.

The band was one of 20 other bands invited to perform at the parade.

The Pride obviously made an impression in D.C. because they performed for another president in 1996. The group performed for Bill Clinton during a rally he held in Sioux Falls and again at his Inaugural Parade in 1997.

Once the 2000s hit, The Pride performed in several other parades, includ-
ing the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif. in 2003 and 2008. They also marched in the Fresh from Florida Parade in Orlando most recently in 2011.

Even though the band has performed at numerous national events, they still make time to have impacts on smaller communities in South Dakota. 

At the end of September this year, the group traveled to Platte, S.D. The town recently went through a tragedy that included a murder-suicide of a family of six in the small community.

 The group decided to attend the high school band marching competition in order to bring some joy back into the distraught community.

 “What was great is that we were able to come down there for one day and bring those people some joy and just help them for at least a little while to have something positive back in their lives for a little bit…” Kessler said. “I think that’s what the band does better than anything [else].”

 Throughout the band’s history, it is noted that a majority of the students did not major in music.

 While this is common among many college marching bands, Kessler believes it still makes SDSU’s band special.

“I think it’s speaks to the experience that we provide for the members of the band that they enjoy it enough to do it even though it’s not part of their course of study,” he said.  

 It’s not all about the history, however. The band, which now stands at 200 members, lives for the now, according to Kessler. 

 “We don’t just live in the past here. We acknowledge the terrific student body that we have in that band now. They are building a legacy for future generations of people who come here to march. They are writing their own chapter in the book as it were,” he said. “I’m very confident we will be here another 125 years.”