A Brief History of the Ohio State Drum Major
Origins of drum majoring at OSU
The drum major has been a familiar figure on the Ohio State campus since 1878 when land grant schools, such as Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State required a musical unit for military cadet parade days. The drum major’s responsibility was to set the tempo of the percussion cadences as the troops passed in review for inspection on the Oval every Wednesday afternoon.
Although the most distinguishing feature of the modern OSU Marching Band’s drum major is his outfit, in the years before 1920 he wore the authorized Army or ROTC uniform. Chevrons on his sleeve designated his rank and distinguished the drum major. He also carried a large ‘mace’ or baton as he marched ahead of the band.
George ‘Tubby’ Essington, drum major from 1920-22, first introduced showmanship, color, and personality in the OSU Marching Band. Prior to his time, the drum major’s position was based on strict military discipline. Perhaps the thrill and excitement of OSU’s winning football teams sparked by All-American Chic Harley in 1919 may have helped to break the on-standing somber look and regimentary characteristic of military bandleaders. Essington’s showmanship, coupled with the smart execution of movement, established a tradition that has continued to the present day. He is also credited with having originated the drum major “strut,” common to drum majors since his time.
Augustus Hall followed Essington in 1923. Hall also added his mark to the position. Hall, as well as the tradition goal post toss, initiated the four–beat thrust movement performed by today’s drum majors as they lead the band down the field at Pregame to the strains of “Buckeye Battle Cry”.
New traditions were rapidly established during following years.Robert Hines, drum major in 1926 and1927, is credited with the first high baton toss. Jim McCreary introduced a spinning goal post toss in 1933. Wes Leas brought lighter, faster 36-inch baton made of steel to the position in 1936, and became the first drum major to lead the incomparable “Script Ohio.” A change to a faster marching cadence in 1936 (from 132 to 166 beatsper minute) led to the evolution of the high strut for the drum major. This high strut became a part of the drum major tryouts in 1941 (by this time, the marching cadence had risen to 180 beats per minute), and it has since been an integral part of the tryout process.
Every drum major strives to contribute something unique to the ongoing evolution and tradition of the position. Innovations continued, including the now-traditional uniform (from the early 1950’s), the floorshow in the St. Johns Arena Skull Sessions (late 50’s), and the first “out-of-state” drum major (Lenny Hart in 1959, among others). Hart was also the first drum major to perform the memorable backbend during “Buckeye Battle Cry” before leading the marching band down the field to begin the Pregame show.
The art of drum major showmanship reached new heights with Dwight Hudson, drum major from 1977-1979. His showmanship and tricks were unmatched, as he had an uncanny sense of timing. In 1978, he received a standing ovation at every game during the season and was voted “Most Inspirational Bandsman” by the band members that year. He has served as an inspiration to drum majors, future OSUMB members, and ushered in a new era of showmanship by the OSUMB drum major.
Also noteworthy was the selection of Michelle Graf as the first female drum major in 1981. Women were first accepted in the OSUMB in 1973, but it was not until Graf’s selection to the position of drum major that women entered this hallowed fraternity.
In 2002 the OSU drum major position secured a full in-state tuition scholarship provided by the Script Ohio Club, Adam Prescott drum major 2001-2002, was the first to receive this award. The assistant drum major also received a scholarship of $2500 in 2002, named the Lynnwood Battle Jr. Scholarship.