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Purdue All-American Marching Band: 100 Years at the Indianapolis 500

Purdue and the Greatest Spectacle in Racing are celebrating a century.

Purdue Boilermakers v Notre Dame Fighting Irish Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Indianpolis 500 is steeped in tradition. It is the largest single-day sporting event in the world and completely consumes the City of Indianapolis for an entire month each year. On race day the entire city seems to come alive, beginning at 6am with the firing of a freaking military cannon to announce the opening of the grounds.

At the center of all that tradition is our beloved Purdue All-American Marching Band, and the AAMB has been there for a century now.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the band’s involvement in the race. It is NOT the 100th time the band has performed, as the track was closed for four years in the 40s because of that pesky war going on. Since 1919, however, the All-American Marching Band has been the centerpiece of the pre-race festivities, which includes the playing of Back Home Again in Indiana.

Like many traditions with the band, the relationship with the 500 goes back to Paul Spotts Emrick. Emrick was the creator of the Block P in 1907 (the first time a band broke ranks on a football field to make a formation), the Big Ten flags, the Big Bass Drum, and more. In 1919 a group of men from the Purdue band took part in the 500’s “Parade of Bands”, and ever since the AAMB been the official host band:

“Just the sheer fact that we’ve been doing this for 100 years is a pretty profound statement to Purdue’s commitment to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Director of Bands and Orchestras Jay Gephart. “This represents a huge piece of our tradition.”

Until recently I did not know it was optional for band members to perform at the race, but the majority of the band makes the summer commitment to take part. Alumni can even take part as a friend of mine that was a Goldduster and graduated in 2002 flew in from California this weekend in order to take part in yesterday’s parade. What makes it even better is that Purdue has no school of music, yet we have one of the most famous bands in the world.

Purdue Bands says there will be a stand alone recognition for the band’s 100th year at the track during pre-race festivities. The band will then perform “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “America the Beautiful.” That will be followed by “Back Home Again in Indiana” with Jim Cornelison.

As a Purdue alum, I just love this. I grew up in Central Indiana and could never watch the race live on TV because of the blackout, but the radio broadcast was always sure to play the AAMB during my family’s annual pool party at my grandparents house. To be involved so closely with something that puts the eyes of the world on our home state is a great tradition.

To the next 100 years!