“The World Famous” Cowboy Band, an ensemble rich in history and tradition, has been an important part of HSU, Abilene, and West-Texas since its inception in April 1923. Membership in the Cowboy Band is open to all HSU students, both men and women, with prior high school band experience. The band regularly performs for football and basketball games, rodeos, presidential and gubernatorial inaugurations, parades, and many other campus and civic events. Presenting some 35 performances annually, it is one of the most widely heard and seen musical ensembles in all of West Texas!
As its name suggests, this highly spirited band has literally traveled the world entertaining audiences. It acquired the nick-name “World Famous” after its European Tour in 1930. Since that time it has performed in the Azores, Belgium, Bermuda, Canada, England, Germany, Holland, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Monaco, Newfoundland, Spain, and Switzerland. The Cowboy Band has performed for six Presidential Inaugural Parades and events: Herbert Hoover – 1929, Franklin D. Roosevelt – 1941, Dwight D. Eisenhower – 1953, Richard M. Nixon – 1969, Jimmy Carter – 1977, and George W. Bush – 2001. The Band has also performed for 11 Texas Gubernatorial Parades and events. Recent travel has included performances in Boston for the Lion’s International Convention and at the San Francisco Pow Wow, one of the world’s largest tourism conventions, at the request of Governor Rick Perry.
The Cowboy Band dresses in colorful western attire that has changed little over the past 91 years. It was back in 1923 that Grady Kinsolving, secretary of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce, approached Simmons College band director Dewey O. Wiley, and asked the band to represent Abilene at a West Texas Chamber of Commerce gathering in San Angelo, quite an honor considering that the little band had previously ventured no further than the towns of Baird, Tuscola, and View. In looking for a distinctive yet affordable uniform, a visit to the local dry goods store turned up some chaps, hats, and neckerchiefs. The Cowboy Band was born!
What is it that makes the Hardin-Simmons University Cowboy Band so memorable and unique in the entire band world? It isn’t the band’s size – the band typically numbers between 40 and 55. It isn’t fancy uniforms – the band wears traditional western attire. And it isn’t a strict military regimen, that’s for sure! Why does the Cowboy Band thrill audiences whenever and wherever it performs?
While most bands are satisfied with performing for others, the Cowboy Band does more. It works hard to engage its audiences on an individual and personal level. It joins in the celebration! This characteristic, coupled with the world’s fascination with the free-spirited cowboy of the American West, may account for its popularity wherever it goes!
The band’s largest audiences are generally at parades. The Cowboy Band annually marches in the Dallas Children’s Medical Center Holiday Parade (previously the Adolphus Parade). In this parade alone, the band will perform for more than a half-million people along the parade route. It is also broadcast in more than 30-million homes across North America.
While marching at a super-fast cadence of 200-210 beats per minute the band shuffles into view, whooping, hollering, and waving their hats in the air! Their leather chaps move in smooth unison as the band seems to float along. Suddenly two band members break rank and join arms to “swing-your- partner” square dance style. Occasionally, a band member my stop to greet bystanders by moving through the crowd shaking hands. Another may borrow a chair to sit for a second and fan her hot feet with her hat. Along the way the band strives to make eye contact with everyone on the parade route.
Soon the drum major gives the signal and the band begins playing The Eyes of Texas, Anthem March, Hey Baby, or Jingle Bells, swaying back and forth with the music. Periodically, they come to a complete stop with a huge stomp and begin a series of four giant scissor-kicks which crisscross each other. Known as the “cow-step,” this spectacular maneuver always elicits cheers from the audience. With chaps flying, instruments flashing, and general “carrying-on” during each kick it is an impressive site! Suddenly a whistle blows and the band whirls back into its rapid cadence, holding hats aloft and whistling and hollering with irresistible enthusiasm! This infectious enthusiasm is present in all of the band’s many performances! It’s Cowboy Band Show Time! Smiles abound! Memories are made!