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I Am An American: Our Tribute To Roy Johnson

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The long time voice of the Purdue All-American Marching Band will retire after this season.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I have been coming to Purdue football games since the fall of 1987. In that time there has been one thing that has stood out as a constant at every game.

Roy Johnson

By now you likely know his name. He is simply "The Voice" of the Purdue All-American Marching Band. I have seen him a few times here and there on game days in the Ross-Ade Pavilion, but he is an institution at this point. While he has been the PA announcer for the band for 43 years going into this season and his signature is "I Am An American". The tradition was started in 1966, slightly before Roy started reading it, but it has become one of the most honored traditions for the Purdue family. In time, Roy has basically become this tradition, which is why when I saw this on my Facebook feed tonight from previous drum major Min Chan Koo I was saddened:

I believe tonight is Roy Johnson's final AAMB history presentation. The word "final" sounds very strange with Roy

After doing some research I discovered that this coming football season will be Roy's final one with the band. There are only seven more home games where we get to hear his iconic "I Am An American" speech before the national anthem. To me, this is one of the best things about Purdue football. Here is some more on him:

Roy Johnson began his association with Purdue University in 1956 when he enrolled as a freshman. That was the start of a 60 year journey with Purdue University and Purdue Bands & Orchestras, which included time as a student, faculty member, alumnus, supporter, friend, and of course the "Voice" of the "All-American" Marching Band.  During his first year in the band, Roy was a member of the Big Bass Drum crew.  He later marched in the block playing his clarinet. Roy served as the Executive Officer and assisted with drill writing his senior year. Since Roy was a fine clarinetist, he also performed in Purdue's top concert band, the Symphonic Band.

Roy Johnson received his bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering from Purdue University in 1960 and 1962.  After earning his degrees, he remained with the university, serving as Residence Hall Counselor, Supervisor of Academic Records in the Office of the Registrar, Vice Chair of the Commencement Committee and Orator for Commencements.

During this time, his post-graduate relationship with Purdue Bands & Orchestras also blossomed.   He joined the staff as a full-time assistant director in 1966 and did design work on new uniforms for the "All-American" Marching Band.  He conducted nearly 140 performances, traveled to every Purdue bowl game, served as the "Voice" of the "All-American" Marching, traveled to many foreign lands with various performing groups, was part of  the Purdue Band Radio City Music Hall experience in the 1960's and was the announcer for indoor concerts during the 1960s and 1970s.

Through the years, Roy has been very passionate about Purdue University, but one organization that dramatically influenced his life is Kappa Kappa Psi (KKΨ). During the spring of 1958, Roy joined Kappa Kappa Psi  and in the very next year became the Vice President. In the 1959-60 academic year, he served as President.   Roy also held additional positions including KKΨ District Governor (1967-1973) and KKΨ National Trustee (1971-73). For 57 years, he has attended regular chapter meetings and is currently a life advisor.

Roy is still best known for "I Am An American". I have two distinct memories of this speech, and strangely they were back to back public iterations. The first one was on January 1, 2001. Like many Purdue fans, I was standing in the Rose Bowl on a beautiful sunny day. The AAMB was going to do the anthem, but I had no idea Roy would be doing "I Am An American" When he said those first four words the Purdue crowd erupted. Even better, the one part of the poem that is always free for adlib was handled perfectly as Roy said, "or you can sweep them clear across this bright Southern California sky!"

The next time I heard it was just as memorable, but under far worse circumstances. It was little more than nine months later: September 22, 2001. The September 11 attacks pushed Purdue's home opener against Notre Dame to December 1, so the first home game of the year would be against Akron. Like virtually every sporting event after September 11 there was a moment of silence. I distinctly remember in that moment, while sitting in the student section, I heard a lone baby crying somewhere in the crowd.

Once again, Roy delivered. The emotion in his voice said it all, as you could tell he, like many others, were fighting off tears as we prepared for this tradition that suddenly meant so much more. In that moment Roy was speaking for 65,000 people in Ross-Ade Stadium, and I will never forget it.

I have heard Roy since I was a kid. To me, he represents so much about what it means to be a member of this family we call Purdue. He is an alum, a lifelong contributor, and just about the biggest supporter of the icon that is the marching band that you can ask for. He is going to be missed.

So let us salute Roy as he is set to begin his final season as the Voice of the AAMB. I am sure many of you have your own memories, so let's hear them in the comments.

***Update***

Thank you to Facebook user, Brent Fletcher, for sharing us this video of Roy Johnson announcing the various band formations during the band's pregame show from a few years back.