The West Point Band, the U.S. Army’s oldest active band and the oldest unit at the United States Military Academy, traces its roots to the Revolutionary War. At that time, fifers and drummers were stationed with companies of minutemen on Constitution Island, across the river from West Point. In 1778, General Samuel Holden Parsons’ 1st Connecticut Brigade crossed the Hudson River and established West Point as a permanent military post.After the American Revolution, Congress disbanded most of the Continental Army, but “the 55 men at West Point,” members of the 2nd Continental Artillery, remained. Among their ranks stood at least one drummer and one fifer, who alone maintained the tradition of military music at West Point.
With the establishment of the United States Military Academy in 1802 came an increased demand for military music. As the academy grew, it needed fifers, drummers and buglers to drill the new cadets and provide an audible order to their duty day. In 1817 the ensemble was named the “West Point Band,” and by this time was performing on a full range of instruments, which included two bassoons, two Royal Kent bugles, a tenor bugle, ten clarinets, three French horns, a serpent (an early bass horn), cymbals, a bass drum, eight flutes, and two trumpets.
Today’s band consists of four components: the Concert Band, the Jazz Knights, the Hellcats and Support Staff. They combine to form the Marching Band. The organization fulfills all of the official musical requirements of the Academy, including military and patriotic ceremonies, public concerts, sporting events and radio and television broadcasts, as well as social activities for the Corps of Cadets and the West Point community.
As the senior premier musical representative of the United States Army, the band has appeared at many historical events. It performed at the dedication of the Erie Canal; at the Chicago and New York World’s Fairs; and for the funerals of Ulysses S. Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt as well as the inaugurations of numerous presidents. Additionally, the West Point Band has collaborated with some of the finest musical ensembles in the country, including the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Pops. Members of the West Point Band have also been showcased in Carnegie Hall and featured on The Today Show, 60 Minutes, Dateline NBC as well as on documentaries occurring on The History and Discovery Channels.
Comprised of graduates from America’s finest music schools, the musicians of the West Point Band continue to present provocative performances while providing the Corps of Cadets with a piece of living history.