The Birth of Music at Tech
The roots of music at Georgia Tech go all the way back to 1906, when the Men’s Glee club was formed.
According to Georgia Tech's student newspaper, The Technique, in an article from October 9, 1917, "The Glee Club was started in 1906 and was composed of some eight or ten men who would gather every afternoon under the Academic Building and practice."
But in an Atlanta Constitution article, dated June 20, 1907, the group’s roots began a bit differently: "One of the great social organizations that helps to make the thorny path at Tech tread easier is a musical club organized last February under the suggestive title of the 'Tech Glee Club'."
Despite differing opinions on exactly how it started, our glee club is the second oldest collegiate glee club in the Southeast.
Then in 1908, a group of 14 students, led by Robert "Biddy" Bidez, a textile major from Mobile, Alabama, formed the first incarnation of the Georgia Tech Band. It wasn’t until four years later that the band had its first bandleader, M.A. “Mike” Greenblatt.
The Venerable Ramblin’ Wreck
In collaboration with Billy Walthall, a student in the first four-year graduating class, Greenblatt adapted the first arrangement of “Ramblin’ Wreck.” It was sung to the tune of the Scottish song, “Son of a Gambolier,” but with cleverly modified lyrics. Walthall wrote the lyrics, while Greenblatt created the score.
Greenblatt led the band until he graduated in 1912 with a degree in Textiles. The song was officially copyrighted in 1919 by Frank Roman, Georgia Tech’s first professional bandleader. The raucous song continues to be popular, sung everywhere from The Ed Sullivan Show to outer space.
- The Georgia Tech Band Club was chartered in 1918.
- Kappa Kappa Psi, a national honorary band fraternity, was founded in 1923.
- Frank Roman also wrote another famous Tech song, “Up with the White and Gold,” which is played after a touchdown at football games, and frequently during time-outs in basketball games.
A Series of Firsts
Georgia Tech also holds the distinction of being the first college to have its songs recorded. In 1925, the Columbia Gramophone Company released a recording of songs performed by the Georgia Tech Band and Men’s Glee Club.
The Glee Club continued to enjoy international popularity, touring first at Army and Air Force bases throughout Europe, then traveling through Greenland, Bermuda, and Newfoundland. They also appeared twice on The Ed Sullivan Show between 1953 and 1968, which was instrumental in making “Ramblin’ Wreck” a world famous song.
In 1954, two years after women were finally admitted to the Institute, trombonist Teresa Thomas and flutist Paula Stevenson became the first female members of the band. They were two of only nine female students registered at Georgia Tech that year.
And then, a Music Department
1963 marked the year that an official Music Department was created at Georgia Tech.
Under Ben Logan Sisk's (1946–1975) leadership, the department brought institutional support to the band and the glee club: Academic credit was now given for participating in the band. The first permanent home of the Music Department was in the old Church of God building on the corner of Hemphill Avenue and Ferst Drive. In 1976, the Music Department was assigned to the College of Sciences and Liberal Studies.
Women continued to impact music at Georgia Tech through the '70s by founding the Epsilon chapter of Tau Beta Sigma, a national honorary band sorority that complemented the Iota chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi. Around this time, the Tech Women’s Chorale also was formed.
- The Georgia Tech Jazz Ensemble was founded by Douglas Richards in 1977.
- The Georgia Tech Orchestra forms as a string ensemble coached by Ron Mendola.
- James “Bucky” Johnson was hired as Georgia Tech’s first full-time director of bands in 1983.
- The Music Department joins the College of Architecture in 1991.
- A year later, Johnson was named the official chair of the department.
- The Music Department established a Certificate in Music in 1995, introducing the Music Minor in 1998.
Music was also at the forefront of Atlanta’s bid for the 1996 Olympic Games. Georgia Tech’s Pep Band and occasionally the entire marching band, would greet dignitaries visiting the campus while dressed in Olympic colors. The marching band participated in the parade celebrating Atlanta’s selection as the Olympic host city.
In 2000, the marching band and symphonic band were invited to play in Dublin, Ireland, during that year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The Men’s Glee club celebrated its centennial in 2006 with a sold-out concert in metro Atlanta’s Spivey Hall. Two years later, the Georgia Tech Band celebrated its own centennial with a performance in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City.
Modern Technology and Arts
In 2006, the now School of Music's first degree program was approved, the Master of Science in Music Technology. The Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology was founded that same year to support the new degree program. Center Director Gil Weinberg orchestrates an environment where students, faculty, and researchers collaborate on musical, technological, and scientific projects.
Perhaps the Center's most famous creation is Shimon, an improvising marimba playing robot, designed to interact with human musicians. Shimon helps man and machine combine their strengths to create compelling new music. This rock star robot has performed all over the world, from Germany to Russia, even on NBC’s The Today Show and the Kennedy Center stage.