A Brief History of the Massillon Tiger Swing Band
The 1915 Washington High School annual describes the original football band of that inaugural 1914 season as "the favorite of the school. The members on occasion of public performances display great personal effort, especially those dealing with the horns of larger plumbing dimensions. This organization deals with instruments of a brassy character capable of producing great flourish. Several drums are tolerated... The band is responsible for a great deal of game spirit, and its presence at games has always been of some consequence in originating and maintaining the enthusiasm among the Massillon rooters."
What possessed those 15 students to take their instruments to a game remains unknown, but they started an organization that after a few shaky years marked by war years and influenza became well established in the 1920's. Early band directors were a math teacher and even the school principal; a school janitor served as a drum major and transportation to away football games was via a local cereal supply store truck. Attire went from ties and suit-coats to actual uniforms by 1924.
By 1926, the band became an official part of the school day with the hiring of Clem Morrison who molded the band in the "Sousa military" style. Under Morrison, the band grew in size and played such school standards as "When the Massillon Boys Fall in Line" and "Tiger Rag". Many community parades and functions were on the band's agenda in addition to the football games. Black military uniforms and a drum major with flag bearers on either side dressed these early Tiger Bands.
In 1938, a band director from Southeastern Ohio who had experience in the vaudeville, burlesque, and social club stage band circuits as well as an education background from The Ohio State University and Cincinnati University Conservatory was hired to take the band to another level. George "Red" Bird took music hot off the radio, combined it with measured steps between the yard-lines, music cued dance movements, baton twirling majorettes, flood-lights, themed shows with announcements, and the antics of a student band "mascot" attired in real tiger skin to recreate the halftime of a football game as a theatrical event. Combined with the amazing football teams coached by Paul Brown, the "Greatest Show in High School Football" was born. National media coverage and national emulation soon followed.
The band continued through the years with much success even as the competition for the limelight grew. Legendary band directors have included Orin Ford, Bob Hofstetter, Jim Billingsley, Ric Tissot, Chris Smith and current director Jason Neel. The first national appearance took the band to the Philadelphia "Tri-State Music Festival" and soon they became the first high school band east of the Mississippi River to march in the "Tournament of Roses" parade in California. Many professional football and baseball games ensued, including the Rams, Browns, Steelers, Lions, Packers, Bills, and Bengals, as well as the NFL "All-Star" and "Hall of Fame" games. From local parades and festivals throughout Ohio, the band has also appeared both nationally and internationally. The largest television exposure was the 1974 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the largest crowd was over a million spectators at the 1984 New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade. The band was named as the "Official Marching Band" of the Nick-at-Night television network. The band has even played for the President of the United States.
The "opening routine" of 'Fanfare, Tiger Rag, and Carry On' has become its signature as well as one of the most recognizable and distinguished traditions in scholastic band field performances. Today, as it was 100 years ago, the band is a favorite among the "Massillon rooters" and since 1938 every time they take to the field...it's Showtime!