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Exhibit Showcases Marching Band Across Generations

Northwestern Marching Band stars in a library display of uniforms and artifacts

EVANSTON, Ill. --- With its traditions, flags and banners, the Northwestern University Marching Band (NUMB) long has been comprised of the most spirited, purple-bleeding football fanatics on campus.

The band is being celebrated in a new exhibit timed to welcome back students and draw proud alumni during Homecoming Week. (See Strike up the Band in Northwestern Magazine.)

Named for the band’s mantra and battle cry, “Pride and Guts: Northwestern University Marching Band” runs from Sept. 15 to Dec. 19 on the first floor of University Library and in the lobby of Deering Library, 1970 Campus Drive, Evanston.

Curators scoured University Archives to find artifacts that tell the story of the band, from its first appearance as a marching unit in 1911 to the modern day, complete with historical uniforms, dashing shako hats and twirlers’ batons.

Special attention was paid to legendary figures Glenn Cliffe Bainum and John Paynter, the first two holders of the title director of bands. Both of them are towering figures in Northwestern music history.

Bainum, who served as Northwestern’s director of bands from 1926 until his retirement in 1953, was an innovator in marching band formations and the first to use mimeographed charts to teach maneuvers. In his first two years, he built the 13-piece band into one with more than 100 members.

Bainum’s successor, Paynter, led the Northwestern bands from 1953 to 1996 and was considered to be one of the most imaginative and innovative leaders in his field. He is credited with introducing the band's high-energy, 270-degree flip turns, full spins, backwards marching and full-scale animation on the field. One of his first acts was to arrange the Northwestern University Hymn (Alma Mater) to be sung in harmony to English words. Paynter also created “High School Band Day” and the NUMBalums, the marching band alumni.

Preserving marching band history is vital to Northwestern, because it is a large, diverse group whose traditions endure from year to year, according to Kevin Leonard, University archivist and assistant director of special collections.

“The marching band represents devoted students from every school at Northwestern,” Leonard said. “Despite that eclectic range, band members remain a cohesive bunch. The traditions have linked the generations.”

The band remains a fundamental memory even for people who don’t participate in it, Leonard added, increasing its importance as a cultural denominator for the University.

“Eventually every student attends an event where the band is performing,” he said. “These are the kinds of things people remember fondly when they think back on their time here.”

Curating the exhibit provided a chance to explore the University’s deep resources on a topic with instant appeal to a large and loyal audience, which includes the current members of the band as well as its vast alumni group, the NUMBALUMS, said Yvonne Spura, archives assistant and exhibit curator.

 “NUMB members and NUMBALUMS are enthusiastic about the marching band and have shown an increased interest in its development over the past decades,” she said. “We have a wealth of historical materials that allow us to reflect on the history from 1927 to the present. That’s a significant timespan to have so much relevant historical material.” 

Spura’s research uncovered numerous film reels filled with footage of marching band performances. The “Pride and Guts” exhibit will feature digitized clips from some of those films on screens in the corridor connecting the main library to Deering, representing only a small fraction of what’s contained in the cans of films.

“We hope that some day we are able to make these films fully accessible through digitization,” Spura said. “When that happens, I am sure we will have a lot of fun making a lot of unexpected discoveries.”

Many of the items on display recently arrived at University Archives and were generously donated by the family of John P. Paynter or transferred from the Office of Bands at the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music.

The exhibition is open to the general public from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at University Library and Deering Library. Members of the Northwestern community with a valid WildCARD can visit during all open library hours.

For more information about the exhibit or collection, contact Clare Roccaforte at or call 847-467-5918. 

- Drew Scott, communications specialist at the Northwestern University Library, is the author of this story.

Topics: Libraries
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