By Carol McFadden
The Purdue “All-American” Marching Band is the marching band of Purdue University and the main source of auxiliary entertainment for Purdue Boilermakers football games. AAMB does many service performances for high schools, junior high schools, and elementary schools, and has been the host band of the Indianapolis 500 race every year the race has been held since 1927. The band has grown from an original 5 members to 373 members, making it one of the largest marching bands in the world. The two most distinctive features of the AAMB are the World’s Largest Drum and the feature twirler, the Purdue Golden Girl.
n 1886 the Purdue Student Army Training Corps formed a five-member drum corps to play music for the cadets during their morning conditioning runs. While operating without a director until 1904, the band had started playing at Purdue football games and had grown to over 50 members. However, during this time it played sporadically, as there usually wasn’t anyone available to direct them. Additionally, they received almost no training and had to provide most of their own equipment.
In 1904, Paul Spotts Emrick, a freshman from Rochester, joined the band. His experience as a conductor resulted in his election as band president and director the next year. During his senior year at Purdue, the band became the first to break ranks and form a letter on the field—the famous Block “P”.
Emrick stayed on as director after his graduation in 1908. In 1921 Emrick commissioned the Leedy Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis to construct the world’s largest bass drum. The “Big Bass Drum” has been a part of the marching band ever since. In 1935, during a Purdue football game at Northwestern University the band donned lights on their uniforms while performing at halftime. With the stadium lights turned off for the performance, the band drew such awe from radio broadcaster Ted Husing, he referred to them as a “truly All-American marching band,” hence the current title of the band.
Emrick retired in 1954, and to date the band has been under the direction of just five other men:
Dr. Al G. Wright (1954–1981)
William C. Moffit (1981–1988)
Joseph Manfredo (1988-1989)
Dr. David A. Leppla (1989–2006)
Jay S. Gephart (July 1, 2006 – present)
In 1995 the “All-American” Marching Band was the recipient of the Sudler Trophy, the most prestigious award a college marching band can receive. Currently, the “All-American” Marching Band is the only band from a university without a school of music to have received this award.
The Purdue band is also famous for its four Featured Twirler positions: the Golden Girl, the Girl in Black, and the Silver Twins.
Purdue’s Golden Girl ranks among the nation’s best twirlers and is at the top of her art form. This talented performer is selected by audition each April, and serves as a leader of the AAMB as well as an ambassador for Purdue University. Recognized nationally for her unique talents, this coveted position has roots going back to the early history of Purdue Bands. The tradition of the Golden Girl was begun in 1954 during the era of quarterback Len Dawson, whose poise on the field prompted the press to nickname him Purdue’s “Golden Boy.” At the same time, Dr. Al G. Wright (now Director of Bands Emeritus) brought his first twirling protégé to the field, Juanita Carpenter, who earned the title of “Golden Girl.” When Dawson graduated Purdue was left without a Golden Boy, but Carpenter’s graduation didn’t have the same effect on her title. Instead Golden Girl evolved into a movable crown that’s been passed down through generations, and the position has become the standard for excellence within the twirling community. Golden Girl #27 MerrieBeth Cox, a senior from Roselle, IL and the reigning Miss Indiana, continues as Golden Girl for the 2012-13 season.
In 1962, another solo twirler position was created to compliment the Golden Girl. June Ciampa was the first to fill this position. Dressed in Purdue’s other color, black, she first performed as the International Twirler. This title was later replaced with “Girl in Black.” The Girl in Black for the 2012-2013 season is Cecilia Daizovi, from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, who is also the first legacy feature twirler in the band’s history.
Jordan Foster of Massachusetts and Alyssa Lyzen of Ohio take on a special role as novelty twirlers for the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band in the 2012-13 season. The position of Silver Twins was created by Al G. Wright in 1960 for identical twins. In auditions for the position, identical twins are given preference but twirling duos may also compete.
Marching band pioneers
The Purdue “All-American” Marching Band has pioneered a number of accomplishments. It was the first marching band to:
Break ranks on a football field to make a formation (The Block “P”), 1907
Carry the colors of the Big Ten, 1919
Play opposing school fight song, 1920
Wear their hats backwards after a conference victory
Perform at Radio City Music Hall, 1963
Receive an official invitation from the Chinese government to perform as part of cultural activities leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympics
Lead the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from the Big Ten, 2010
The oldest marching band formation, the “Block P”
As the band stands now, it contains numerous woodwind, brass, percussion, and auxiliary members. The wind instruments are organized into ranks of 10 people. The band currently contains 27 ranks. The percussion consists of a drumline, drum majors, and the World’s Largest Drum; auxiliary performers are organized by their type of performance. A section of Big Ten Flag carriers exists for pregame and halftime drill.
Horns, or Mellophones
World’s Largest Drum, or Big Bass Drum
Golden Silks (Flag Corps)
Goldusters (Dancers/Pom Squad)
The Big Ten Flags
Girl in Black
Neil Armstrong, aviator, first man on the moon. Armstrong played baritone horn with the AAMB in 1952. Armstrong was made an honorary member of Kappa Kappa Psi in 1965 and received the band department’s Alumni Achievement Award in 1997. His Kappa Kappa Psi pin went with him to the moon and is now on display at Purdue’s Edward C. Elliott Hall of Music.
Orville Redenbacher, businessman and agriculturalist, namesake of Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn. Redenbacher played tuba with the band in the 1920s.
Russell Games Slayter, inventor of fiberglass. Slayter was a tuba player. The Slayter Center of Performing Arts, the site of the band’s “Thrill on the Hill” football pep rallies, is a gift from Slayter and his wife.
- A Saturday musical tribute to the late Jerry Buss (news.usc.edu)
- Vote: Best Marching Band In Minnesota (minnesota.cbslocal.com)
- Doane College marching band returns after 26-year absence (omaha.com)
- Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry: Marching Bands Throw Down (detroit.cbslocal.com)
- KCMO high school marching bands do ‘battle’ for best band title (fox4kc.com)
- Historic year for UMass Marching Band (wwlp.com)
- CSU Marching Band brings new music, energy to shows (collegian.com)
- Musicology: Ohio State University Marching Band is incredible! (timesreporter.com)
- Little band, big sound: Pitman High School to host marching band competition (nj.com)