A Look Back: the World-Famous Cowboy Band
(ABILENE, Texas)–The Spring 2019 semester brought age old traditions back to HSU’s World Famous Cowboy Band. The last decade saw little travel from the band, which is known for its tradition of playing around the world. In April of 2019, Bill Harden, director of bands at HSU, accompanied the group to Branson, Missouri, where they brought music to people from around the country over a four-day stint.
The trip began with a performance for the Omaha High School student body in Omaha, Kansas. The stop gave high school students the opportunity to experience a small taste of life at Hardin-Simmons, as well as to hear from HSU’s Associate Vice President for Enrollment Services, Jim Jones. The band then played outside the Titanic Museum before performing a short parade and concert at the Branson Landing. Over the following days, the World Famous Cowboy Band lived up to their title, performing as the pre-pre-show for the Dolly Parton Dixie Stampede, at Silver Dollar City, on the Branson Belle, and at Harvest Church for their Palm Sunday service.
While searching for a new Director of Bands, “they (Hardin-Simmons University) were looking for someone to take the band to new places, again. They (the Cowboy Band) haven’t traveled in sixteen years,” says Harden. With the addition of Harden to the School of Music faculty, the program looks forward to many years of travel in the future.
HSU’s World Famous Cowboy Band began in 1923, when the school was asked to send a music group to events around Texas, and has been passionately sharing music with Abilene and the world ever since. The Cowboy Band became world famous in 1930 after it went on an eight-week European tour. The band has traveled to countless countries, including Canada, England, Holland, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Mexico, Spain, and Switzerland.
The 1930 edition of The Bronco yearbook, when the school was still Simmons University, tells about the importance of and excitement surrounding the band’s European tour. “With its highly pleasing, melodious, and snappy programs, it is considered the ideal medium for introducing cowboy and other forms of American music into the concert halls of Europe.”
By 1940, the band had travelled to 12 countries and all of the lower 48 states, and had performed at such famous venues as the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York, the Palladium in London, the Hippodrome in Birmingham, and the Tuschinski in Amsterdam.
In 1970, the Cowboy Band traveled to New York City to participate in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Two years later, the Cowboy Band Hall’s construction was completed, giving the band a permanent home on campus.
The band toured Europe again in 1984, when Harden was a student in the music program. Harden says he was fortunate in his time performing with the Cowboy Band, as they travelled to England, France, Switzerland, and Germany.
Over the years, the Cowboy Band has performed at very important events, such as six Presidential Inaugural Parades: for Herbert Hoover in 1929, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941, Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, Richard M. Nixon in 1969, Jimmy Carter in 1977, and George W. Bush in 2001.
Part of the Cowboy Band brand is the vibrant western attire uniforms. For performances, each member of the band wears a cowboy hat, a neckerchief, a brightly colored western shirt, jeans, chaps, and boots. This uniform originated in 1923 when the band was asked to represent Abilene at a West Texas Chamber of Commerce gathering in San Angelo. The band searched for unique but affordable attire to wear for the occasion, which they found at a local dry goods store in the form of some chaps, hats, and neckerchiefs. The distinctive HSU Cowboy Band uniform was born.