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During its history, the Southeast Marching Band has thrilled audiences throughout
the United States and abroad. Today, the Marching Band performs for thousands of
audience members annually. From athletic events, to parades, concerts, and exhibition
field performances, the Southeast Marching Band is the pride of the university and
(The following is extracted and edited from The History of Missouri Bands – Herbert Duncan, author)
The Missouri State Normal Military Band was organized in the fall of 1907 under the direction of Earl G. Beck, Mus.B. Professor Beck was instructor in violin and also directed the school orchestra. Before World War I, the band was led by Professor Harry L. Albert. Under his direction musical groups made annual tours of Southeast Missouri towns. The college yearbook, Sagamore, lists William Eber Roller, Mus.B., as Director of Bands and Orchestras from 1921 to 1924. Yearbooks of the college from 1924 to 1930 do not show pictures of any bands on the campus.
The first picture of the college band, directed by Professor O. Lewis Wilcox, appears in the 1931 Sagamore. Wilcox was formerly director of the Central High School band in Cape Girardeau. He remained at Southeast Missouri State College for 26 years as director of bands until his retirement in 1957. The 1931 Sagamore describes the band program:
The College Band completed a very successful year (1931). It is under the Direction of a new leader, Prof. O. L. Wilcox, who was formerly in charge of the Central High School Band of Cape Girardeau. Its presentations included a very interesting chapel program, concerts at all football and basketball games and playing for many types of parades. Probably the most outstanding of these was the parade of the dedication of the stadium which included many out-of-town bands and local bands. The band also was taken to Carbondale Halloween to play for the football game there between the two colleges. The band this year strutted out new uniforms which are probably the most attractive of any in this section. The members of the band received their tuition free this year.
The 1950 yearbook indicates that new red and black uniforms were worn for the first time that year.
Upon Wilcox’s retirement in 1957, LeRoy Mason was named Director of Bands at SEMO. Mason was director at nearby Jackson High School from 1938 to 1957. Dr. Mark Scully, principal at Jackson High School, persuaded Mason to come to the university after Scully became president in 1956.
For the first 50 years of it’s existence, the University Marching Band went without an official name. After his appointment as Director of Bands, Mason took a trip to visit several successful college band programs, the University of Michigan being one, and returned with ideas for reorganizing and renaming the University Band. He chose the colors blue and gold, the band’s members voted and approved of the new Director’s plans, and Mason convinced the university administration that the Golden Eagle was the ceremonial war bird of native Americans and should serve as the mascot for the band just as the Indian served as the mascot for the athletic teams. As a result, the band became the Golden Eagles with colors of blue and gold, while the University was the Indians with the color of red. This is believed to be the only college band in the nation in which differing mascots and colors were recognized.
The uniforms that the band wore during the Mason years was a navy blue coat and pants with a white overlay with gold trim. The cap was navy style military (navy blue) with a plume. At one time, the Band also wore white spats.
The Sagamore in 1976 wrote of Mason’s accomplishments:
Since 1957, SEMO football fans watched the Golden Eagles (Marching Band) perform under the direction of LeRoy Mason of the music department. This year, Mason will retire after serving the college for 19 years with an impressive record and a hard act to follow.
Mason developed the college band into the marching team that has won national fame with 23 halftime appearances at professional football games, a Super Bowl performance in 1971, and the most national television time of any band over the last 16 years. The Eagles honored their retiring director at homecoming with a special formation of ‘LEROY MASON’ and performed A Jolly Good Fellow on the field. Mason also acted as the grand marshal for the homecoming parade.
Following Mason’s retirement in 1977, John Locke was appointed to the position of Director of Bands. Near the end of Dr. Locke’s tenure in 1980, the band purchased a new set of bright blue and yellow (gold) uniforms. These uniforms carried over to the new Director of Bands, Dr. Robert M. Gifford.
During Gifford’s tenure, the Golden Eagles grew from 70 members to 170 and continued the tradition of annual appearances for the St. Louis Football Cardinals, as well as the Atlanta Falcons and the Indianapolis Colts. The Golden Eagles also performed on the steps of the state capitol in Jefferson City and received invitations to perform for the Aloha Bowl and the Indianapolis 500 Race. After Gifford’s first three years, the president of the University, Dr. Stacey, agreed to purchase a new set of uniforms but specified that the uniforms must be red. A student selection committee and several alumni agreed to this change as long as the group retained its name, the Golden Eagles, and gold was incorporated into the new design. The compromise was very successful as the band was twice named “The Best Dressed College Band” in the nation by the National Association of Uniform Manufacturers. Assistant Directors of Bands during this period included James W. Erdman, Andrew Classen, Alzie Walker and Barry W. Bernhardt.
Under Barry W. Bernhardt’s leadership, the Golden Eagles Marching Band performed at the 1999 and 2008 Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Golden Eagles were only the second American university band invited to participate in the Tattoo.
Southeast Missouri State University Director of Bands