Texas Southern’s ‘Ocean Band’ Has Rich, Inspiring Legacy



The Actual Story as Told by People Who Were There

by Mrs. Esther Franklin Nelson

PART 1.  1945 – 1950

The band at Texas Southern University was organized at Houston College for Negroes during the school year of 1945 – 1946.  At this time, the veterans were returning from World War II.  Many were also enrolling into this new school of higher education.

Mr. Allen E. Norton, acting Dean at that time, requested a list of at least twenty-five (25) names so that a college band could be added to the extracurricular activities.  Upon this request, thirty – five (35) interested musicians organized the first band of this institution.  Conrad Johnson was contacted to serve as the Band Director.

Our major performance was for the Spring Commencement Services of which I was a member of this class.  Due to a lack of proper equipment and instruments, I was asked by the Band Director of accompany the band on the Precessional, “The War March of the Priest”.  Because of our interest shown at this affair, we received a hearty welcome.

The following September, we marched from what is now Ryan Junior High School to the newly built Fairchild Building.  Also, Houston College for Negroes had acquired a new name, Texas State University for Negroes.  More veterans and other students had enrolled and as a result, the band grew.

 PART 2.  1950 – 1964

Due to the loss of files because of moving transactions to another edifice, we were unable to trace most of the Band’s activities during this period.  In the meanwhile, while we are still making effort to “bridge the gap”, we have a little bit of information about this period.  During this period, Texas Southern University Band male members applied and received a charter of Kappa Kappa Psi, National Honorary Band Fraternity for College Bandsmen.  Also, during this period, a charter was applied for and received of Tau Beta Sigma, National Honorary Band Sorority for College Bandswomen.  We have found out that at least three new directors have served during this period.  They were James Hill Lark, Jr. (director when the Kappa Kappa Psi Chapter was received), Jack C. Bradley (later head of the Music Department of Texas Southern University), and Campbell A. Talbert (presently on the faculty of the Music Department in 1972).  Efforts are still being made to find out additional information about this period of band history.  We plan to get on record, a complete band history and the rest of this section will be added at a later date, if possible.

 PART 3. 1965 – 1972


By Vinola Loyce Nelson

Welcome one and all to the greatest half time show of the ages.  Shortly, not only will you see, but you will hear some talented musicians who will entertain you.  So, don’t go away, or you’ll miss the show of all shows – – – – presenting, THE TIGER BAND OF T.S.U. LAND! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Believe it or not, this was how the band was introduced at every performance.  The drum major would run onto the field with a battered baton and a whistle of some sort.  We would blow the whistle, which sounded like a toy horn at a New Years Eve’s Party.  Coming onto the field, playing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, the Tiger Band pranced.  The announcer was right – – – hilarious entertainment, a comedy show you’d never forget, unbelievable performances with tremendous action.

First, you’d see a group of girls representing majorettes.  They carried, and dropped quite often, batons of many shining colors – – red, blue, silver, and gold.  They wore white knee high boots, short skirts with blouses.  However, the head majorette wore maroon one piece outfits of glimmering fabric.

Next to enter the field were two rows of people playing woodwind instruments.  Alongside, forming a third row, were drummers beating drums of all sorts, sizes, shapes, and colors.  The bass drum, with its muffled sound, was flanked on both sides by two pairs of cracked cymbals, polished with a little rust for glamour.  Behind the percussion section, the blaring tubas marched, bringing with them the trumpets, the baritone horns, and a french horn.

Most of the band would wear the remainder of the maroon and gray uniforms which had seen their better and brighter days.  Most of the uniforms had patches, pins and paper clips.  The patches were sewn to cover the unwelcomed holes, the pins and paper clips were used to fasten together the pants and coats.  The band hats were box shaped with a white leather strap that fastened under the chin.  A secret about most of the hats, they didn’t have a top, only the brim and a leather strap existed.

By the time “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” had ended, the majority of the viewers were clustered at the refreshment stands or concession stand buying such goodies as peanuts, popcorn, and cotton candy.  They remained at such places until the half time show was over.  The opposing band, by this time, was dying of laughter and ridicule.  Our Band Director, David Peters, could never be found until the “show” was over.

I will never forget the 1967 football season.  Mr. Peters decided that we would travel to Louisiana and show “Grambling’s band how its suppose to be done!”  He proceeded with his pep talk, which received a complete silent response from the band of some fifty pieces.  During this time, the growth of the band was stimulated by workstudy checks, amounting approximately $60.00 to $90.00 monthly, based on rehearsal scheduled from two to three hours daily.

At any rate, we started working on this “dynamic show” to be seen by all who attended that great game in Louisiana.  Again, we entered the field playing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”.  From there, we’ve formed a stick-picture, representing a football player.  As we played the Enco Gasoline Theme Song, “Hold It Tiger,” the majorettes ran across the field with a huge brown football made of cardboard, drawn and painted by someone in the Art Department.  As the ball approached the player, one foot would kick it away.  The majorettes would run in a different direction at a much faster rate of speed.  This routine happened throughout the entire song.  The crowd’s reaction, absolutely impossible, couldn’t believe their eyes.  Following this spectacular event, we marched in squares to a tune called “Unsquared Dance”.  From these squares, we moved into block formation to complete our show with the dance routine — the tune?, none other that “Turkey In the Straw” (with a new name or different title, of course)  Again, where was our leader, Mr Peters, hiding in the midst of the crowd.

Our uniforms that season were a little difference.  The entire percussion section wore black shoes or tennis, black slacks, and maroon and black turtleneck shirts.  The rest of the band dressed as preciously stated.

The 1967 season included many other tricks and treats.  We were told to march from the Music Building to Jefferson Stadium.  As we started down Cleburne Street, dogs would bark, some tried to bite too, people would laugh and allow their children to throw garbage, tomatoes, and even raw eggs at us.  Some of us were hit by these items.  Believe me, we were all tired of being laughed at by the entire Southwestern Athletic Conference! (SWAC)  What could we do?  We tried, to no avail, talking to the band director about changing our shows, especially the music.

By the following season, 1968, we had been awarded new uniforms to encourage continual participation in the band.  They were a tremendous improvement over the uniforms of yesterday.  However, our hats resembled those worn by Milkmen with an added gray “feather” worn on top.  We carried one memory from the past, however, white socks and white shoes.  Added to our new dress code were white gloves.  These new uniforms gave us an incentive to keep trying, in spite of public harassment and ridicule.  We were determined that we wouldn’t be embarrassed any more.  Because of our rebellion, we weren’t allowed to march at the first few games.  Finally, our drum major, Kenneth Malveaux, and our staff of officers decided to chart our own half time show.  At that time, John Roberts and Harold Aytche, of Shreveport, were assigned to David Peters as graduate assistants.  Mr. Roberts, being a very devoted leader, tried everything in his power to help us.  He helped us by creating marching drills downfield, arranging music, and giving us hints for a dance routine.  The drum major showed us how we were to leave the field on drum rolls, breaking into a well known tune, arranged by Edward Lee Rose, a tuba player.  We were somewhat satisfied.

This show was a strong improvement over the others in the past.  At last, we were anxious to perform at half time for once.  Our moment finally came, Astrodome, Grambling vs Texas Southern University.  After we marched on the field, Ralph Yarborough was called onto the field to give a “thank you” speech.  He had prepared the longest “thank you” speech in quite a while, it lasted the entire time of our show.  After the speech, the band was ordered off the field by someone over the public address system.  Grambling’s football team had already begun warming up for the second half, in spite of us standing on the field.  Again, a voice ordered us off the field.  Downtrodden and angry, we walked off the field.  The audience laughed, threw paper at us and other things.  Finally, the last game of the season came, TSU vs PV.  This time, we performed our “well rehearsed” show.  We hit the jackpot, at last.  Instead of the audience’s boos and nays, we heard their cheering and screaming.  Our pride, for once, had come through.  At the close of the Spring 1969 Concert Season, we heard rumors of a new band director for the Fall Season.  Based upon the facts of the rumors, the man was a black man.  Of course, experience had taught us not to build our hopes too high.  Previous years, the same rumor raged throughout our ears and each time David Peters would return with his “Everything Coming Up Roses”.  To our great surprise, this was no longer a rumor, but the divine truth.  July 1969, we were proudly introduced to our “Black Moses” in our time of trouble, Mr. Benjamin J. Butler, II and the birth of the “Ocean of Soul”.  From that day to eternity, “Mr. Soul” will always have a special place in my heart and memory for his musical inspirations.


Thank you, “Ocean” for Taking the Field

by Harry L. Nelson, Jr.


Since the name “Ocean of Soul” was given to the Texas Southern University Band by a local radio show, talking about a mountain of soul for Houston, it has commanded the interest and attention of the public locally and nationally.  The flashy, pace setting, “Ocean of Soul” have appeared at numerous professional football games and recently, at the Battle of the Bands.  Also, in 1973, at this Battle of the Band performances, the “Ocean of Soul” revealed to the public, for the first time, its new band uniforms.  These uniforms were designed and represented the first class band, the “Ocean of Soul” band uniform is completely different from anyone else’s .