History of the Cal Band

1891 Band

The University Cadet Band, the predecessor of the present-day Cal Band, was founded in 1891. After the ROTC absorbed the Cadets, the band members asked the ASUC to sponsor a student-run band which first performed on November 25, 1923. As the Band continued to grow, the first Constitution was written and adopted in 1925, formalizing the unique system of student leadership which continues to this day.

In 1930, Charles Cushing (Student Director ’27) became the faculty director of the Cal Band and the next year, the Band had 150 members, a permanent home in Room 5 Eshleman Hall and new uniforms. In the late 1930’s, the Band played for the ground-breaking of the Golden Gate Bridge and the opening of the Bay Bridge, and marched in the 1938 Rose Bowl.

The Cal Band went through a transition after the 1950 Rose Bowl where its performance appeared lackluster compared to the Ohio State Band. The Band studied several Big Ten Bands and adopted its current high-stepping style.

From 1952 to 1973, the Band was under the direction of James Berdahl (Student Director ’38). Until the spring of 1954, when a totally new constitution was adapted, the Cal Band was run by a three member executive committee (Senior Manager, Rep-at-Large, and Director). This restructuring of the Band’s government laid the groundwork for all the successes that followed. The new constitution became effective with the first five member executive committee (Senior Manager, Rep-at-Large, Drum Major, Student Director, and Director) in the 1954 fall season.

In 1950, the Straw Hat Band was founded; it continues to this day to be a trademark of the Cal Band. Recognized by the State Department, the Cal Band represented the United States at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium and later went to the Rose Bowl in 1959.

Several Cal Band traditions were established in the 1960’s: the “bomb,” a flash powder device announcing the Band’s entrance to the field before pregame; the “flying wedge” formation also in the pregame show; the “Script Cal”; and the full-field spread during “America the Beautiful.” 1965 saw the production of the first Cal Band Spring Show after the Band returned from its first national tour. The Band also toured California in 1968 for the University’s Centennial. There were three major changes in the Band in the early 1970’s. First, the Cal Band got a new director, Robert O. Briggs (Cal Band ’47-’50). Secondly, the Band moved from the sponsorship of the ASUC to that of the University. Third, women were admitted into the Band for the first time. The Band toured Japan in 1970 and the United States in 1976.

In 1991, the Cal Band received the Berkeley Citation, celebrating the 100th year of the University of California Marching Band. The Band also had the good fortune of going to four Bowl games in the last six years, including the Citrus Bowl, the inaugural Alamo Bowl, and the Aloha Bowl. In 1995, Robert M. Calonico, (Student Director ’75) returned to Memorial Stadium as the Band’s new director, replacing longtime director Robert O. Briggs. Also in that year, the Cal Band boasted sharp, untarnished colors of their new uniforms (cut in the traditional style).

For over one hundred years, the Cal Band has been motivated by a desire to perform, serve the University, and foster school spirit. The Band has truly earned its well-deserved title: “The Pride of California.”

The Cal Band History Committee is a comittee of the Cal Band Alumni Association. One of its undertakings was the Cal Band History Project, which included publishing “The Pride of California,” a book devoted to the centennial celebration and its history of the band.

Feel free to learn more about the Cal Band’s history by browsing the History Book, reading the oral histories, or contributing to the Archiving Project.