100 years of Million Dollar Band

Adrienne Burch

More than 500 alumni of one of the most treasured organizations at The University of Alabama will take the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday during the halftime show of the Florida Atlantic game.

The alumni are all previous members of the Million Dollar Band and will entertain the crowd this weekend during their Centennial Celebration, the apex event memorializing the band’s 100th anniversary.

“The Million Dollar Band is such an integral part of the spirit at this university,” said Ken Ozzello, director of the Million Dollar Band. “Anybody that has been a director realizes that they are just a steward of this great institution.”

The alumni will play a medley of songs from different eras of the Million Dollar Band’s history alongside the current band members.

“We are excited to have our alumni on campus to celebrate such a momentous occasion,” Ozzello said.

The Million Dollar Band officially became an organization in 1912 under the direction of Gustave Wittig as a military organization to help with the training of troops, Ozzello said. There are several theories about where the name Million Dollar Band first originated.

However, according to the 1948 football media guide, the most commonly accepted theory dates back to 1922 with a comment made by Alabama alumnus and sports trainer, W.C. “Champ” Pickens.

The legend goes that after a 33-7 Alabama loss to Georgia Tech, an Atlanta sports writer asked Pickens, “You don’t have much of a team, what do you have at Alabama?”

Pickens replied, “A Million Dollar Band.”

Pickens is said to have received the idea for the name from the band’s fundraising efforts to raise money to attend away games. Thus, the name was coined and the rest is history.

The Million Dollar Band has grown to over more than members, making it the largest student organization on campus. More than 25,000 students have played in the band over the last 100 years.

“If you came to the football game 80 years ago, the band would have still been here,” Ozzello said. “It’s one of those enduring traditions of the University.”

In 2003 the band received the Sudler Trophy, the national championship for collegiate marching bands, which a school can only win once. Sports Illustrated has also listed the Million Dollar Band as one of the top college bands in the nation.

To kick off the Centennial Celebration this summer, members of the band traveled to Italy to take part in a 10-day tour where they marched on the streets of Florence and played in concert halls throughout the country.

Junior clarinet player Danielle Drews said she feels the Million Dollar Band plays a big role on campus.

“We help get people excited about the games with the ‘Elephant Stomp,’” Drews said. “Without the band, the atmosphere at football games would not be the same.”

The celebration will begin Friday, Sept. 21 with a performance by the Alabama Wind Ensemble and the Million Dollar Band beginning at 8 p.m. featuring band directors from the past 100 years. The performance will be followed by a formal Centennial Gala showcasing exhibits and photographs from the band’s history.

Also, Friday night a commemorative print done by Action Sports celebrating 100 years will be unveiled to the public and available for purchase.

Sophomore baritone player Amy Ackerman said she would not want to be anywhere else but in the BAMA spell-out during the pre-game.

“The MDB is a family,” Ackerman said. “Everyone involved with the MDB has so much passion, wants to be there and understands what an honor it is to be part of such an amazing organization.”

Ackerman said that she had no idea when joining the band that she would be a part of such a special year.

“Occasions like this happen once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky,” she said.