Off the page: ‘The Golden Band from Tigerland’

Tom Continé and Faye Phillips begin The Golden Band from Tigerland, an illustrated history of Louisiana State University’s nationally renowned game-day musicians, with one of the oldest photos from its storied past. In those days, LSU called itself the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy, was located among plantation-style barracks in downtown Baton Rouge, and accepted only white men as students. As one might expect, the image shows several rows of band members and cadets in military-style dress, posing with their drums and trumpets or standing at attention. But it’s the little details that give away the photo’s true age—a horse-drawn carriage in the background, for example, and two Civil War-era cannons on which sit two young boys in sailor caps and stockings.

The photo was taken in the year 1899, but the Golden Band from Tigerland goes back even farther, to 1893, making the group an LSU tradition with well over 100 years under its belt. That means over 100 years of photographs, several of which dominate full-page spreads perfect for flipping through during game-day commercial breaks, or at least for laying on conspicuous coffee tables.

But Continé and Phillips hardly skimp on appropriately wordy research, dividing the book into several chronological chapters, from the band’s origins in the 19th century to its heyday under controversial governor Huey P. Long, then through the years of World War II and the 1950s advent of the Golden Girls. The band grows more and more recognizable as the authors delve into the popularity of televised performances in the 1960s and ’70s, highlighting significant bandleaders and directors who continued to transform and diversify the university with each passing decade. Sections dedicated to Kristie Smith, LSU’s first female drum major, and to the band’s bareheaded “Amazing Grace” tribute after the events of September 11, are especially moving in retrospect.

LSU football has long claimed fame as one of the most beloved teams in the Southeastern Conference, but thanks to this tag-teamed literary look at the Golden Band from Tigerland, Continé and Phillips remind readers of the true spirit that drives the team—and the fans—to each Saturday game. In the words of Frank B. Wickes, LSU’s director of bands from 1980 to 2010, “Long may it live! Geaux Tigers!”