The Pride of the South has been a part of the Rebel experience since 1928, when the group consisted of only 29 members and the SEC was nonexistent.
The band used instruments, uniforms and equipment donated by the National Guard and didn’t see its own fully outfitted uniforms until six years later. These tight resources and growing pains were treated like trivial details as the Rebel band rose to the occasion and earned its rightful place in the production that is Ole Miss football.
Changes were abundant in the band’s evolution. The band has been led by 10 different directors over the span of its 89 years, and fan-favorite music like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Boogie Down” of the 1970s gave way to more contemporary classics like “Sail” and the timeless “Sweet Caroline.” Its placement in the stands has moved to every end zone and corner, following the student section as closely as possible and being piped throughout the stadium as technology allowed. Whereas the field show in the 1930s was based on military marches, it’s now a more elaborate series of sets traveling across the field. The numbers have steadily increased from a start of 29 members to the ensemble’s highest of 315 in 2014.
Though the facts of the band may change, its feel and atmosphere have been maintained throughout the generations. To be involved in the Ole Miss band is to be included in two unique things – the Oxford game day experience and the family feel of being part of a unit of student musicians.
“I loved my time in The Pride of the South. Just yesterday, I went to get lunch and saw two people I was in band with back then,” Aaron Bailey, a member from 2001-2005, said. “Being in Oxford, you get to see a lot of people you remember. Most of my friends were in band when I was in school, and Oxford is one of those places you don’t want to leave unless you really have to.”
Bailey moved out of Oxford upon his graduation to be a band director at Olive Branch High School but moved back to town over the summer to work as the assistant band director at Oxford High School.
The Pride of the South practices Monday through Friday up until the first home game, dropping Wednesday practice and holding Friday rehearsal only on home game weekends. The group learns up to five shows a season, many times juggling multiple at once. A normal day’s practice includes rehearsing stand tunes, the Grove routine, pregame, halftime and the parade block, which is used for marching into the stadium and in the annual Oxford Christmas Parade. The conditions are typically hot, damp and mosquito-infested, yet The Pride of the South has experienced an upward trend in its numbers.
“We are fortunate to have about 100 new members every year, and although it can be quite an adjustment from high school or junior college, they are able to quickly adapt and feel at home due to the effort, guidance and compassion of our returning members,” Randy Dale, director of athletic bands, said. “The veterans are really the ones who help the new students with the fast-paced environment of Pride of the South.”
Students like Kayla Luke agree. A freshman majoring in computer science, she views the Ole Miss band as a safe place in the midst of demanding coursework.
“Pride of the South has already helped me be more outgoing, because I am surrounded by so many people all the time but know only a couple personally,” Luke said. “It’s taught me to have more confidence in myself even though I’m just a freshman.”
Transfer students who arrive at Ole Miss with experience in community college or other university bands have an adjustment to make, just as the freshmen do, since each program is run differently and has different expectations for its members.
“After adjusting to how much bigger a university band is compared to my community college, I’ve realized that The Pride of the South is like a family,” Drew Fisher, a junior transfer student majoring in music education, said. “The staff and students all care for each other and look out for each other. Having that family has made transferring here so much better.”
The band does not discriminate based on race, major, hometown, sexual orientation, instrument choice or any other factor. It is precisely its collection of various walks of life that makes the Rebel band full of vibrant color.
“The biggest draws of the band are the sense of place it provides, the family atmosphere and the friends you keep for 15-plus years,” Bailey said. “You have 300 people you wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise to build a school family and support system with, right on the first day of school.”
You can catch The Pride of the South behind the Grove stage on game day about an hour and a half before kickoff, on the field during pregame and during halftime as well as in the stands in the time between. Enjoy the iconic red jackets and the faint whisper of the Ole Miss fight song that can be heard almost anywhere in the stadium. And if you stick around until the bitter end, you can swing in time with the football team and cheerleaders as the band plays the sweet tradition of the alma mater.