Bluford Library Archives: 100th Anniversary of the Blue and Gold Marching Machine
The foundations for a college band at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University began as far back as 1910. That year it was announced in the local press that music professor Charles Edwin Stewart (1888-1976) would begin a college band and orchestra. The new “A. and M. College Band” was promoted in college bulletins between 1911 and 1916 as a fine option for students to learn the woodwind instruments. By 1913, the college band was known as “the best negro talent in the city,” and a year later postcards of the band were widely distributed to promote the college.
Stewart left A&T in 1916 and William Edward Lew (1865-1949), a graduate of the Boston Conservatory of Music, stepped in as director of music. Under Professor Lew the A&M band developed into a 50-piece ensemble in 1918 under the school’s new name to become the “A. and T. College Band.” The achievements of the band from 1918 to the early 1930s remain lost to history, but it was listed in college bulletins each year under music. Succeeding W. E. Lew as music instructor from 1918 to 1929 were R. C. Bolling, C. J. Michaels, and O. Anderson Fuller (1904-1989) who later became the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in music. Fuller was succeeded by Raymond A. Walls from 1930-1933 and Ethyl B. Wise.
In 1934, Bernard Lee Mason, a graduate of Oberlin College, became the A&T’s next music instructor and band director. During his tenure, the band was offered as an extracurricular activity and A&T College was the only HBCU in North Carolina with a band. Its reputation continued to grow, and the band became a favorite at parades, homecomings, football games and commemorative events. When America entered World War II in 1941, nearly half of the college band volunteered as one unit, the famous “B-1 Navy Band”. One of these men, Walter F. Carlson Jr. (1922-2001) would change the band forever.
Carlson would begin to carve the distinct identity of the band beginning in 1947 and over the next 40 years. After receiving his masters from the University of Michigan, he brought many of their techniques, and those of Ohio State to A&T. The college band began dancing during the field show, in a high stepping precision military style, with blue and gold uniforms that closely resembled those of the University of Michigan. Jimmie J. Williams (1933-2004), a music major with an expertise in percussion joined Carlson in directing the band and pioneered the drumline. Originally called “Cold Steel,” the drumline and performance style earned the band a national reputation that has only continued to grow. Dancing and performance were accentuated even more with the addition of majorettes and flag girls in the mid-1960s. These performers were renamed the “Golden Delights” in 1992.
The band was renamed “The Blue and Gold Marching Machine” around 1977 under the direction of Dr. Johnny B. Hodge (1939-2013) and Jimmie J. Williams. They continued to lead ever-increasing performance band until Dr. Hodge’s retirement in 2003. Dr. Kenneth Ruff, an alumnus of the BGGM assumed leadership and the band’s fame has continued to grow into the 21st century. The BGMM has been named one of the top ten bands in the nation by Urban Sports News, and #1 by HBCUSports in 2017. The motion picture “Drumline” (2002) with a fictional HBCU band was based on North Carolina A&T, and a performance in the 2012 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are among several landmark moments of the band approaching a century of extraordinary performances and Aggie Excellence.
To support the momentum of the Blue and Gold Marching Machine, there are numerous ways to contribute to the band financially. The preferred method is a gift of support directly to the University either by check to the Office of University Advancement or by visiting our online giving site at www.ncat.edu/giving and listing the designation for University Band. When sending in checks please note University bands or Blue & Gold Marching Machine in the memo lines. One hundred percent of these funds will support the band and its members. Gifts can be made in support of students in need of tuition assistance or to help recruit talented musicians to N.C. A&T.