Known as ‘The Aristocrat of Bands’ and ‘The Band of Firsts,’ the Tennessee State University Marching Band holds a remarkable place in the annals of American music. This year, they’re set to make waves yet again as the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) marching band to perform at the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade.

Tennessee State University, an esteemed HBCU based in Nashville, Tennessee, has been a beacon of educational excellence since its founding in 1912. Home to numerous notable academic and research centers and boasting illustrious alumni like Oprah Winfrey, TSU’s tradition of excellence extends to its marching band.

Born out of an idea by Dr. Walter S. Davis, TSU’s second president, in 1946, the band swiftly blossomed under the stewardship of its first director, J.D. Chavis. A mere six weeks after inception, a 100-piece marching band proudly took to the TSU field, marking the beginning of an extraordinary journey.

From halftime shows at football games to appearances at the Washington Classic, the band, under Chavis and later Frank T. Greer, continually raised the bar. A milestone moment came four years into Greer’s tenure when TSU was invited to play halftime at a Chicago Bears vs. LA Rams game—the first-ever national television appearance by a historically black university band.

Over the years, the band has graced national television with nine halftime shows between 1956 and 1978, even earning the moniker ‘The Aristocrat of Bands’ from a sportscaster—an appellation that has remained.

Their journey of ‘firsts’ took them through memorable years such as 1961, TSU’s band was invited to President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade, another pioneering moment for a historically black university. They repeated this honor at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural parades in 1993 and 1997. More recently, in 2016, they became the first band to play on the White House lawn during the celebration of the opening of the National Museum of African American History & Culture.

The baton of leadership now resides with Dr. Reginald Adrian McDonald, who has brought his comprehensive understanding of music and his broad experience as an educator to the storied history of the ‘Aristocrat of Bands.’ Raised in Atlanta, Dr. McDonald has enriched the Tennessee State University Marching Band with the same passion and expertise that earned his previous bands a ten-year streak of superior ratings at various music competitions in Georgia. This dedication to excellence also led to numerous prestigious performances, including during President Bush’s visit to the Atlanta Fernbank Museum. A four-time ‘Teacher of the Year’ honoree, Dr. McDonald is not just a maestro of music, but an inspiring mentor who continually propels the band to new heights of musical mastery and historic firsts.

With each performance by the Tennessee State University Marching Band, you’re not just witnessing a musical spectacle but a moment of history. Their commitment to excellence continues to blaze a trail, ensuring that each appearance is not just an accomplishment but a memorable experience.

Don’t miss the chance to see them in action during this year’s Chicago Thanksgiving Parade. Discover more about ‘The Aristocrat of Bands’ and their illustrious history by visiting their website at”

Directors, does you band have what it takes to take the national stage? Apply now to be part of the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade! The 2023 application deadline has been extended for marching bands and horse units, click here to find out more. We are also accepting applications for the 2024 Parade as well.