The first evidence of a band at the University of Kansas was in 1878 when a student, Stuart O. Henry, organized a small 12-piece band that supported the university military company. Unfortunately this group did not receive much support from the university, as it did not survive the summer. There were further attempts to start a university band over the following years, but it wasn’t until a student named Curtis Osborne organized a group in1898 that a band withstood the test of time and survived to the present day. A succession of many students followed Curtis Osborne as leader of the band until 1910 when Joseph C. McCanles was hired as the first faculty director. He served until 1934 when Russell L. Wiley assumed leadership of the band. Under Wiley's leadership the band grew and flourished, and in 1936 he founded the Midwestern Music Camp, a camp that to this day is thriving, educating young musicians from all over America.
Russell Wiley retired as director of bands in 1968 in order to direct the Midwest Music and Art Camp full time. He was succeeded by Kenneth G. Bloomquist who held the position of Director of Bands for only two years. George Boberg then temporarily directed the band from 1970 - 1971 until Robert E. Foster was appointed Director of Bands fall of 1971. During Foster's 31-year tenure, the KU Band continued to grow and prosper.
The current face of the KU Band and many of its traditions were established during Robert E. Foster’s tenure as Director of Bands. For example, the KU Marching Band marched down Campanile Hill to Memorial Stadium for the first time in the fall of 1971, an important pre-game tradition to this day. The Kansas state song, Home on the Range, was first performed by the Marching Band in 1971, and soon became a permanent part of the band's repertoire. Women became a regular part of the Marching Band in the fall of 1972, the same year that new silver sousaphones, the first in the Big Eight Conference, were introduced in Memorial Stadium. In 1989 the KU Marching Band became only the seventh band ever to be awarded the Sudler Trophy, the highest honor available to college marching bands. In 1994 it was listed as one of the top ten college marching bands by Sports Illustrated. In the spring of 1996, Mr. Foster organized a trip to Japan with the Marching Jayhawks where the band participated in a weeklong marching band festival held at the theme park Huis ten Bosch, in Nagasaki, Japan.
The KU jazz program began when Robert E. Foster started the first "official" jazz ensemble in the music education department in the spring of 1972. He held that position until 1976 when he handed over the reigns to Jim Barnes. In 1983 KU hired Ron McCurdy, a graduate of KU that was already running the top jazz ensemble beginning in 1980, as its first director of jazz studies. Since that time it has become one of the most outstanding jazz programs in the country. In 1990 KU hired the current director of Jazz Studies, Dan Gailey, who has been able to continue to grow the jazz program into three big bands, two jazz choirs, and numerous combos; as well as continue the great tradition of the KU Jazz Festival that Dr. McCurdy founded in 1978. The ensembles have won nine Down Beat Student Music Awards as well as Jazz Ensemble I receiving the title of “Best College Big Band” in North America in 1997.
The Symphonic Band (now called the Wind Ensemble) appeared at the Music Educators National Association convention in Colorado Springs in 1979, Miami in 1980, and in subsequent years at conventions in Indianapolis, Chicago, and Kansas City. The Symphonic Band has also performed at the prestigious American Bandmasters Association convention in Kansas City in 1983, in Oklahoma City in 1985, and in Lawrence in 1995. The band has also been selected to perform at three conventions of the College Band Directors National Association.
With the bands at KU growing in size and stature, the need for additional faculty became vastly apparent. Mr. Tom Stidham came to KU with experiences as the Director of Bands at Georgia Southern College and as Assistant Director of Bands at Baylor University in 1975. Shortly after Stidham’s arrival, Mr. James Barnes also joined the staff in 1976 with a unique knowledge of KU as he received both a B.M and M.M in composition from KU. He served as assistant director of bands until the year 2000 when he stepped down as Assistant Director of Bands in order to focus his attention in the music theory and composition department at KU.
With Mr. Barnes’ departure from the band department, Dr. Tim Oliver was hired to fill the void. He led the Marching Jayhawks and athletic bands for three years. Jim Hudson arrived in 2003 and began a fierce rebuild of the marching program, bringing numbers back into the 200s. David Clemmer replaced Jim Hudson in 2006 and continued a tradition of excellence with the Marching Jayhawks. The current Director of Athletic bands, Associate Director of Bands is Dr. Matthew O. Smith who arrived at KU in 2011. Today the Marching Jayhawks number over 250 and continue to grow in size and in quality.
An end of an era came in 2002 when Robert E. Foster stepped down as Director of Bands, becoming Assistant Chair of the Department of Music and Dance. Dr. John P. Lynch replaced him as Director of Bands and served in that position until the year 2007. During his tenure, Dr. Lynch made strives to increase the stature of the KU Band program by beginning programs such as the KU Commissioning Project, “The Conductor’s Art Symposium”, the Kansas University Kansas City Youth Wind Symphony, and the Prairie Wind Festival as well establishing the flourishing relationship with the Naxos recording label.
Following Dr. John P. Lynch, Dr. Scott A. Weiss came to KU as the Director of Bands where he continued the efforts and growth of the KU Bands both locally and nationally. He served three years as KU’s Director of Bands and was followed by the current Director of Bands, Dr. Paul W. Popiel in the year 2010 who brings great promise to the KU Bands program. Another end of an era occurred when Mr. Tom Stidham retired in the year 2012 after 37 years of service to KU. He was replaced by former KU band alum, Sharon L. Toulouse. There are over 400 students involved in various programs in the KU Bands, playing in 11 different ensembles. They represent the University in over 125 performances each school year beginning during Hawk Week before the first classes have met, and concluding with the last selection in commencement, marking the end of the academic year. In recent years the KU Bands have continued to build on their storied reputation with a recent performance at the MENC National Convention in Minneapolis in 2004 and a thrilling concert tour of China by invitation of the Chinese government in 2005. Their first professional CD, "Redline Tango," was released on the Naxos label launching their new line of recordings "Wind Band Classics." Subsequent Naxos CDs were released in 2009, "Wild Nights", and 2011, "Derivations". The next project, "American Landscapes", will be released in 2013.
In 2012, the KU Alumni Association and the student-led Homecoming Steering Committee named the KU Alumni Band as the winner of the 2012 Rich and Judy Billings Spirit of 1912 Award. This annual award recognizes special contributions to KU’s Homecoming celebration, which celebrates its centennial in 2012. The KU Alumni Band was chosen in gratitude for its yearly performance during Homecoming and its long-standing involvement with the tradition. The inaugural year of The KU Alumni Band was in the spring of 1974, begun by Robert E. Foster, and coincided with the retirement of Director of Bands Russell Wiley. The first board of directors for the Alumni Band included successful and prominent KU Band alumni, including Merrill Jones, president and owner of Wingert-Jones Music Company; Charlie Molina, a Conn Instrument Sales Rep; John Weatherwax, a local businessman and former Lawrence mayor; Paul Gray, a local music store owner who is now a minister; and Clyde Bysom, a prominent local musician. The Alumni Band continues to be a vibrant organization that bridges the many generations of our storied band program at the University of Kansas.
University of Kansas Director of Bands
1907-1933 Joseph C. McCanles
1933-1968 Russell L. Wiley
1968-1970 Kenneth G. Bloomquist
1970-1971 George Boberg
1971-2002 Robert E. Foster
2002-2007 John P. Lynch
2007-2010 Scott A. Weiss
2010-present Paul W. Popiel