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Defining the Modern Marching Band

New exhibit on Dr. William P. Foster’s career pioneering HBCU marching bands.

William Foster with a green and orange background.

The influence of marching bands, specifically those from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), on American pop culture is undeniable. Even more undeniable is the influence Dr. William Patrick Foster had on shaping the style of HBCU bands and elevating them to the national and international stage.

Having been discouraged from a career in conducting because of a lack of jobs for Black conductors, Dr. Foster resolved to “develop a band that would be better than any white band in the country.”

During his tenure as the Chairman of the Music Department and Director of Bands at Florida A&M University (FAMU), he created the internationally renowned Marching “100” Band, and developed over 200 halftime programs, establishing marching band techniques, and reshaping expectations and possibilities for the genre.

A new exhibit from Special Collections in Performing Arts (SCPA), William P. Foster: Defining the Modern Marching Band, displays and contextualizes records from Dr. Foster's personal papers, which are housed at SCPA as part of the American Bandmasters Association (ABA) Research Center.

Defining the Modern Marching Band introduces the career of Dr. Foster with the Marching “100" Band, and invites patrons to explore his impact on both marching band and popular culture. It builds upon the initial highlighting of this collection in SCPA’s 2021 podcast Not a Quiet Place, which examined the genre of the marching band, specifically, HBCU marching bands. Finally, this exhibit encourages researchers to view and use Dr. Foster's papers and other complementary collections for future research that explores his work and lasting legacy.

The exhibit is on display through August 2023 and is curated by SCPA's ABA project archivist Dr. Jessica Grimmer.

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