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Butler University Marching Band playing
Butler University Athletic Bands

History of the Butler Bands

One Saturday afternoon, in the fall of 1919, as Butler and DePauw squared away on the football field, a few people suddenly noticed that DePauw had something Butler lacked: a BAND! These people immediately began to correct the problem by raising money through the selling of magazine subscriptions. They raised enough money to buy two bass horns and to hire some talented musical directors. Despite this meager beginning, the Butler Band was born.

The original band consisted of 12 musicians without uniforms. By 1921, however, additional funds were raised to outfit the band with white sweaters, blue trousers, and hats. In the same year, the band took its first road trip to Urbana, Illinois, where the Bulldogs defeated the Fighting Illini for the first and only time in school history.

The band continued to grow under a series of student directors until 1925 when James Bradley (better known as "J.B.") Vandaworker was hired as the band's first professional director. The esteemed Mr. Vandaworker was nationally known and respected as a musician and builder of men through his work as director of the Indianapolis Newsboy's Band. Mr. Vandaworker served as Kappa Kappa Psi Grand President and was later honored with the distinguished Bohumil Makovsky Memorial Award.

Under Mr. Vandaworker, the band had acquired military uniforms and the student body had raised money to purchase capes by the late 1920s. In 1928, the custom of awarding "B" letters to senior band members with at least seven semesters of service was inaugurated. Although this tradition is no longer practiced, senior members flipped the capes of the version of the uniforms used from 1990 through 2007 to display a giant "B" at the last football game in honor of the this practice.

With J.B. Vandaworker, the band grew in size discipline, and musical quality. In 1927, Butler executed its first marching formations, which spelled out words on the football field. Mr. Vandaworker also lead the band in three or four indoor concerts per semester, which increased exposure to the community. He also added numerous engagements outside the university setting. By the end of the 1920s, the band number 60 members and played engagements at the Indianapolis 500 Festival and over WFBM, a leading local radio station at the time.

It was during this period that local band fraternity Beta Mu Sigma was formed. In 1929 Beta Mu Sigma petitioned to obtain a charter from the National Committee of Kappa Kappa Psi. The petition was granted and on May 31, 1929 the Alpha Beta chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi was installed at Butler University.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Butler's band program, like all those nationwide, suffered through the repercussions of the Great Depression and World War II. However, at Butler, the legendary Tony Hinkle directed athletics, which meant a rise in the quality of our sporting teams. To accompany this rise, a topnotch band was essential. At this time, the Butler football team had game attendance approaching 10,000, and many football games—as well as basketball games—were televised. Entertainment at the half became a must.

The entire band program at Butler was elevated in 1944, when Nilo Hovey, a nationally known authority on band music, was hired as director of bands. Mr. Hovey was well-known by music educators around the country as a conductor, clinician, and author of numerous instrumental method books.

Meanwhile, the marching band acquired its first full time director in 1946 when Charles Henzie began his tenure as the director of the marching band, which would last until 1966. Under his leadership, the marching band grew in both size and musicality. In 1948, the band became the first in the state to use an 8-to-5 marching style with the chair step. Soon after, flag girls and twirlers were added under the name of the "Half-Time Honeys."

The '40s saw another important addition. On July 7, 1946, the Epsilon chapter of Tau Beta Sigma was chartered as a sister organization to Kappa Kappa Psi. The Epsilon chapter was just the fifth in the nation to be activated.

Consistent growth marked the 1950s. John Colbert, who was credited with introducing the concept of the wind ensemble to Central Indiana, became the director of bands in 1957, while in 1958, Michael Leckrone became the assistant marching band director under Charles Henzie. With incentives from the University, including $100.00 off each semester's tuition and the eighth semester tuition-free for members who participated all four years, marching band membership peaked at 180 members in 1964.

Michael Leckrone became director of the marching band in 1966 and, with his unique arrangements and strong show design, the band flourished until his departure in 1969 to direct the University of Wisconsin Marching Band. The marching band fell on hard times during the tenure of Vincent Paxcia from 1969 to 1973. Mr. Paxcia had little experience when hired and was further hampered when the graduating class of 1969 was the last to benefit from a free eighth semester.

In 1973, Robert Grechesky became the director of the Marching Bulldogs and brought the band roaring back. From a membership of 72 in 1973, the band grew to 120 in 1976. During this time, the Butler Marching Band was featured three times in Sports Illustrated for their unique performances.

Dr. Grechesky assumed the role of director of bands in 1980, while he continued to oversee the marching bands. Soon after, in 1984, all university bands were joined together into a new Department of Bands under the direction of William J. Hochkeppel, with Dr. Grechesky continuing as director of the athletic bands. However, in the spring of 1989, Dr. Grechesky announced that he would no longer be the director of the athletic bands due to health reasons and stepped into the role of chair of the music education department. Mr. Dave Coffing kept the athletic bands performing during the 1989–90 school year while a national search was held to locate a director.

In the fall of 1990, David McCullough joined Butler as director of athletic bands, and he served as interim director of concert bands until Harvey Benstein joined the Butler faculty as director of bands in the fall of 1992. When Professor Benstein departed, Dr. Grechesky returned to the role of director of bands, overseeing the University's concert bands.

From a hardworking group of 33 members in 1991, the marching band grew steadily during the '90s. In 1992, Butler was the host band for the Indianapolis Regional Bands of America Championships and began exhibition performances for BOA (now Music for All) in 1994. The band hosted a performance of the West Virginia University 360-member marching band in the Butler Bowl in 1996, and in 2001 and 2002, the Butler Marching Band performed at the US Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. At the same time, growth in the Butler University Basketball Band (BUBB) mirrored the rise of our basketball team and its string of postseason appearances. The BUBB is generally considered to be the most exciting and entertaining basketball band in our conference and one of the best in the Midwest.

In the fall of 2000, Dr. John Graulty began his appointment as Butler's director of bands but left two years later. Dr. Grechesky heroically returned to the role of director of bands, a post he maintained until his retirement.

Under director of bands Dr. Robert Grechesky and director of athletic bands David McCullough, there was enormous growth in the Butler band program during the new century. The 2010 marching band included 135 members, the largest in over 40 years, and the BUBB performance opportunities increased with NCAA tournament travel most years, including two recent trips to the Final Four.

The years 2014 and 2016 saw exciting changes in Butler's band department. After 40 years of dedicated service to Butler, Dr. Grechesky retired in 2014, and the University welcomed Col. Michael Colburn as Butler's newest director of bands. Professor Colburn came to Butler after 27 years in the internationally acclaimed "The President's Own" United States Marine Band, the last 10 years serving as the band's director.

Professor David McCullough retired in 2015 after 25 years of service to the bands. In 2016, Dr. Matthew Smith joined the Butler family as the new director of athletic bands.