New Sousa Archives Exhibit Opens: Professor Harding and the Illinois Bands during World War I

Illinois Military Band
University of Illinois Athletic Field, 1912

As war enveloped much of Western Europe in 1914 and 1915 our country struggled to justify its involvement in this conflict and our national leaders overwhelmingly favored peaceful negotiation as the only logical way to end Europe’s war.   While fear of a German invasion spawned discussions on the possible need to close the University of Illinois or at least discontinue courses that did not provide relevant training to support a military build-up if needed.   After America’s declaration of war on April 6, 1917 the Illinois band’s 1917-1918 season was greatly affected by the loss of members to the war effort—more than 40 men enlisted for service with most joining the Great Lakes Training Station’s naval band which John Philip Sousa was commissioned to lead for the duration of the war. The university’s dramatic budget cuts during the 1917-1918 school year limited Harding’s concert band to giving tour performances to only towns a short distance from Champaign, and the football band only traveled with the team to one game.  This new exhibit investigates the challenges that Harding faced and highlights the role that Harding and his bands played providing the campus and the local community with musical artistry, patriotic fervor, and moral support during the darkest days of WWI.

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