The University of Alabama

Million Dollar Band Celebrates 100 Years

The Million Dollar Band, one of the University’s most beloved organizations, marks its 100th anniversary this fall.

“The band’s sound has changed throughout the years, but the spirit associated with it hasn’t,” said Ken Ozzello, director of the Million Dollar Band since 2003. “It’s important to celebrate that tradition.”

Formed during the 1912-13 school year, the band has its roots in UA’s military background and was formed as a way of training students to march as a unit. The name “Million Dollar Band” was first used in 1922 by W. C. “Champ” Pickens, an Alabama alumnus and former football team manager.

The most widely accepted version of the story is rooted in the band’s trip to the 1922 away game against Georgia Tech. Because the band’s budget at the time was little more than what it spends on T-shirts and water bottles today, members were forced to fundraise extensively just to cover the cost of the over-crowded bus ride to Georgia.

During that game, won by the Yellowjackets 33-7, an Atlanta sportswriter asked Pickens, “You don’t have much of a team, what do you have at Alabama?” Pickens replied, “A million-dollar band.” The name, now more appropriate than sarcastic, stuck.

More than 25,000 students have played in the band in the last 100 years; today, the band boasts more than 400 members, making it the largest student organization on campus. The group has performed before hundreds of audiences at football games on college campuses across the United States.

In 2003 the band was awarded the prestigious Sudler Trophy, the national championship for collegiate marching bands, which any band may win only once. Recently, its performances were seen by millions during halftime shows at the national football championship games played in 2009 and 2011.

In this year of Centennial Celebration, the Million Dollar Band added another accomplishment to its list: first marching band to parade in the streets of Florence, Italy. In May, more than 100 members of the band traveled to Italy for two weeks to perform in concert halls throughout the country and interact with Italian music ensembles.

The Centennial Celebration began with a Sept. 21 concert featuring directors from the past 100 years, followed by a Centennial gala. The University of Alabama Alumni Band performed with the Million Dollar Band during the halftime show at the football game with Florida Atlantic University. Later, a piece of commemorative art commissioned especially for the Million Dollar Band was revealed.

The Million Dollar Band is affiliated with the School of Music, part of the College of Arts and Sciences.