History of the Marching 97

The Marching 97 has been a part of Lehigh University for over a century - its humble beginnings in 1906 mark the start of a remarkable and singular history. In its heyday, the band was regarded as among the finest in the world, and performed both field shows and stage concerts across the country. Auditions were held at the beginning of each academic year, and competition was fierce for spots among the band's ranks. The members were held to rigid standards of performance and attendance. Both then and now, the band has been known above all for its gregarious, fun-loving, rowdy enthusiasm - a type of spirit the band likes to call "psyche". For over one hundred years, the members of the Marching 97 have been cut from the same cloth - while the members and directors may change, the spirit of the band is every bit the same as it was when the band first assembled in 1906.

Perhaps nobody has better described the Lehigh Band than one of its founders, E.E. Ross: "There was never a single case of jealousy or friction…we worked with little formal system but with complete cooperation - and we had a lot of fun."


1906: The first Lehigh University band is founded under the direction of E. E. Ross ’08, with the goal of increasing school spirit. Approximately fifteen men meet for the first time in Saucon (now Christmas-Saucon) Hall.

1907: The band makes their first appearance at a football game.

1908: The band performs for Andrew Carnegie, who arrives on campus for “Carnegie Day” to celebrate the construction of Taylor Hall (funded by the Carnegie Foundation). This marks the first of the band’s several intersections with the Carnegie name. The first concert performance of the Lehigh Band is also held in the newly-built Drown Hall. The concert is followed by a dance to the band's lively waltzes and two-steps.

1923: The L.U. Band performs their first recorded halftime show, forming a “human L”.

1948: The 97-member marching system is adopted under the direction of Schempf.

1963: The band performs a concert in Carnegie Hall with the Columbia University band.

1964: The band plays at the 1964 New York World's Fair.

1965: The Brown and White (Lehigh’s school newspaper) refers to the band as “the Marching 97” for the first time.

1969: The 97 first allows women to join as cheerleaders. Cheerleaders are taken from Cedar Crest College, Moravian College, and other nearby universities, and are considered a part of the band. The band also returns to Carnegie Hall, this time in concert with the Yale University band.

1971: Lehigh University first admits women. The band travels to the Lehigh-Delaware football game by train, serenading onlookers with powerful renditions of “The 1812 Overture”.

1973: The first women join the Marching 97, removing their shakos to reveal their long hair- and thus the coeducation of the band- after a field show set to “There’s Nothing Like a Dame”. Lehigh hosts the non-competitive Globe-Times Band Festival at Taylor Stadium.

1977: The band travels to the Pioneer Bowl with the football team and makes their first appearance on national TV. Lehigh beats Jacksonville State 33-0.

1987: The Marching 97 marches its final season in the venerated Taylor Stadium. The band currently performs at home football games in Goodman Stadium.

2014: The band performs at Yankee Stadium for the 150th meeting of the Lehigh-Lafayette football game.

2018: The 97 makes its first trip overseas to perform in the London New Year’s Day Parade in England.

Fun facts

After an away football game against Harvard, a Harvard newspaper declared the Marching 97 the "Finest Band East of All Points West". This appellation was embraced by the band and has stuck to this day.

In the 1960s, the concert band (which included almost all of the members of the marching band) would play a concert at whichever school the current band Manager's girlfriend attended.

On the Friday morning before the Lehigh-Lafayette game, the 97 marches around campus to psyche up students for the game by interrupting classes and playing fight songs. This tradition, called EcoFlame, began in the 1970s, when Professor Rich Aaronson asked the band to play for his ECO 001 class.

Directors of the Marching 97

1924-1945: Dr. T. Edgar Shields

1946-1956: LTC William T. Schempf

1957-1972: Jonathan Elkus

1968: Dr. Albertus L. Meyers

1973-1977: James Brown

1978-1989: Clark CJ Hamman

1990-1995: Casey Teske

1993, 1996-2016: Al Neumeyer

2017-2021: David Diggs

2022-Present: Darin Lewis

The Alma Mater Controversy

At the 1970 Lehigh-Cornell game, Cornell fans mocked the fact that both schools' alma maters sounded identical (both are based on a 19th-century ballad called "Annie Lisle"). Embarrassed band members resolved to replace the current alma mater with "Centennial", a piece written in 1968 by Joseph Godfrey ’68 (still played by the Marching 97 after every football game). The band even sponsored a contest to write lyrics for the tune, awarding a twenty-five dollar prize to the winner. However, these efforts raised the ire of many alumni, who were reluctant to abandon tradition. As such, "Centennial" never became the official alma mater of Lehigh University.