History of the Georgia Tech Band
In 1908, the Georgia Tech Band program was formed by fourteen students and led by Robert “Biddy” Bidez, a textile major from Mobile, AL. The band found its first official bandleader in M.A. “Mike” Greenblatt who took over the band for two years and in his time as director, wrote the first arrangement and score of Georgia Tech’s most famous fight song, “Ramblin’ Wreck”. The lyrics were then added by Billy Walthall, a member of the first graduating class at Tech.
Frank “Wop” Roman, 1914-1928
Frank “Wop” Roman was the next to oversee the band program in 1914 and stayed until his death in 1928. Under Roman’s tenure as director, the Georgia Tech Band Club was formed, and the Iota chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, national honorary band fraternity, was founded. Roman is credited with having arranged and copyrighted “Ramblin’ Wreck” and “Up with the White and Gold” still performed today. Roman also composed Georgia Tech’s Alma Mater. Roman’s Tech Band became the first band to broadcast live dance music over the radio, playing a dance concert on campus that was transmitted via wireless radio to the Georgia Terrace Hotel in Atlanta.
Major A.J Garing, 1929-1946
Major Atha J. Garing was hired as director of the Georgia Tech Band in 1929. He brought with him sixteen years of experience as a euphonium player in John Philip Sousa’s band. During a tour with the Sousa Band, he visited the city of Atlanta for a performance and vowed that he would one day return to Atlanta. Indeed, he did return and developed the Tech Band through his impeccable direction and passion for music. During Garing’s tenure, students played throughout Atlanta in the dance orchestra, known as “The Ramblers”, with notable performances at the Grand Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel and the Egyptian Room at the Fox Theater. “The Ramblers” also performed on board an ocean liner for a voyage across the Atlantic.
Ben Logan Sisk, 1946-1975
Ben Logan Sisk was hired as Director of the Tech Band in 1946 upon the retirement of Major Garing. Georgia Tech first admitted women students in 1952, and in 1954 Teresa Thomas and Paula Stevenson became the first women to join the Georgia Tech Band. They were two of the nine women then enrolled at Tech. Also during this time, the Music Department, under the leadership of Sisk, was created in 1963 under Tech’s General College with the intention of bringing institutional support to the band and the glee club. For the first time, academic credit was given for participation in the band. The first permanent home of the Band was established at the old Church of God building on the corner of Hemphill and Ferst Streets.
As the number of women in the Band increased, the Epsilon Theta chapter of Tau Beta Sigma, national honorary band service sorority, was chartered in 1973.
Ed Bridges, 1975, and
Ken “Uncle Kenny” Durham, 1976-1983
Upon Sisk’s retirement, Dr. Edward S. Bridges joined the Music Department faculty in the summer of 1975 as director and Head of the Music Department. Also in 1975, the music department moved to its current home in the Couch building, a former elementary school. Following tensions and controversy between Bridges and band students, he stepped down as director and was replaced by assistant director Ken Durham.
Kenneth Durham was hired as assistant band director in fall of 1975 and became Director of bands the following year, serving until 1983. Mr. Durham was given the nickname “Uncle Kenny” during his time at Georgia Tech due, in part, to the fact that he organized an annual Thanksgiving celebration for those band students who were unable to go home for the holiday. Don Eubanks joined the band program in 1975 as an assistant director of the marching band and later the director of the basketball band. The Jazz Ensemble was founded in 1977. Ron Mendola was hired as director of the Jazz Ensemble in 1979 and continued to direct it until 2011. The Georgia Tech Band Alumni Association (GTBAA) was founded in 1979.
The Music Department entered a new era of growth in the 80’s with the addition of the Symphonic Band and the Orchestra as well as several new music history and music technology classes. Durham stepped down as director in 1983 due to an increasing commitment at his other job in the finance industry.
“Bucky” Johnson, 1983-2002
James G. “Bucky” Johnson, a graduate of the University[sic] of Georgia, was hired in 1983 as Tech’s first full-time band director. To help manage the expansion and improvement in the bands, Carlisle Dent joined the staff as an assistant director in 1988. Following the undefeated 1990 football season, the Band traveled to Orlando, Florida as Georgia Tech defeated Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl for the national title. The Band also marched in a parade at Disney World, and the taped performance was part of the 1991 Walt Disney Christmas Parade televised the following December. Dr. Andrea Strauss was hired in 1992 to assist with the band program and teach music theory classes upon the departure of Mr. Dent. Chris Moore was hired as an assistant band director and leader of the Percussion Ensemble in 1995. Under his direction, the percussion program at Tech began to flourish.
As Atlanta bid for, and eventually won, the 1996 Olympic Games, the Band would dress in Olympic colors and play to greet dignitaries visiting the campus. A student remarked, “we seem to be the band on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” The Band marched in the parade celebrating Atlanta’s selection as host of the Olympics. Leading up to the Games, Bucky Johnson was the director of the Atlanta Olympic Band in addition to being the director of the Georgia Tech Band. Chris Moore served alongside Johnson as assistant director and staff arranger of the Olympic Band.
Andrea Strauss, 2002-2008
Following Johnson’s retirement in 2002, Dr. Andrea Strauss was promoted to Director of Bands and Chris Moore was promoted to Director of Athletic Bands. The growth and vigor of the bands at Tech expanded rapidly at this time. In 2001, the Marching and Symphonic Bands traveled to Dublin, Ireland to perform in the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. The first decade of the new century saw the band perform in such notable venues as the Shanghai Chamber Music Festival in 2006 and a performance tour of Sydney and surrounding New South Wales, Australia in 2007.
The Georgia Tech Bands celebrated their Centennial in 2008 in a number of ways. The Marching Band participated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City in 2008 to cap off a celebration of one hundred years of band at Georgia Tech. The band also wore special polos and RAT caps embroidered with a commemorative centennial logo. In the fall, the Wind Ensemble premiered a new work by renowned composer Julie Giroux, entitled Hard Drive, which was commissioned by the Iota Chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi.
Chris Moore, 2008-Present
After the departure of Dr. Strauss, Christopher J. Moore continued as Director of Athletic Bands. He is also Coordinator of Percussion Studies at Tech, as well as director of the Atlanta Falcons Drumline and the Spirit of Atlanta Drum Corps. B.J. Diden was added to the music faculty in 2008 as an Assistant Director of Bands and Director of the Symphonic Band. Dr. Andrea “Doc” Brown joined the band as assistant director of bands in 2010. Brown left the Institute in 2013 (too soon!) for the University of Michigan, but remains beloved by her former students many years later. Dr. Cameron L. “Chip” Crotts was hired in 2011 as Assistant Director of Bands and Director of Jazz Studies. Under his leadership, the jazz program has grown to include two full ensembles and a collection of small combos.
The first decade of its second century saw the Band grow in size and scope. The 2016 season saw the largest Yellow Jacket Marching Band in history, with 378 members. In the same year, Georgia Tech was approved by the USG Board of Regents for its first ever undergraduate music major, the Bachelor of Science in Music Technology. With it, a new ensemble was born- an electronic music group called the “Techlectric Light Orchestra”. The music technology program has also influenced the YJMB under Chris Moore, with synthesizers and samplers integrated into the pit percussion.
The Georgia Tech Band program now encompasses a thriving group of musicians across multiple disciplines, including athletic, concert, orchestral, jazz, and electronic ensembles. The Band has been enriching the lives of Georgia Tech students for more than a century, and will continue to do so into the future.