Women’s History Month: A half century of women in the Michigan Marching Band
The 2022-23 school year at the University of Michigan marks 50 years since the passing of Title IX, which allowed women to join the Michigan Marching Band.
Today, 42% of the MMB identify as women, and the band is led by Rachel Zhang, the fourth female drum major in the 125-year history of the marching band.
The band acknowledged this important anniversary during the homecoming game at the start of the school year where several pioneering women from throughout the MMB’s history conducted and participated in the performance, including Lynn Hansen, a graduate of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance and marching band member from 1972 to 1975.
When Hansen enrolled at U-M in 1971, she had every intention of joining the marching band.
“Because I wanted to be a band teacher, I thought of course I would be in the marching band,” she said. “How do you teach something that you haven’t experienced at a higher level than the people you’re teaching?”
When she learned that this experience, crucial to her career ambitions, was not available to her, she confronted the then newly-appointed band director George Cavender about how to join. She was told, again, that there was no way for her to join. This encounter followed protests on campus in 1971 attempting to sway Cavender’s desire for an all-male band, to no avail.
Until, that is, the passing of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972—the first comprehensive federal law to prohibit sex discrimination against students and employees of educational institutions.
Hansen, along with 11 other women, joined the band that first year. As first chair oboist, she also became the first-ever female section leader. She recalls having full support from her male bandmates and feeling empowered to fully participate in the marching band experience, as a member and as a leader.
That very first season, the band was invited to perform the halftime show at Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles. One of Hansen’s clearest memories, understandably so, is forgetting her pants before the Super Bowl performance.
“Packing everything up, the instruments all had to go in these big crates, and you were responsible for your own uniforms. The hats were boxed and taken separately,” she said. “And we got there, and we had gone through our rehearsals and we were getting closer to the actual Super Bowl, and I realized that I didn’t have my pants.”
Luckily, the equipment manager arrived with extra pairs and Hansen was able to take the field.
Hansen went on to fulfill her ambitions of teaching band to young musicians, and became a principal oboist of the Traverse Symphony Orchestra, performing with them for 42 seasons.
“I feel so grateful to have been one of the first to just get in there and get started, and be able to pursue my dreams at that point,” she said.
A half century later, the trail Hansen blazed has afforded thousands of women the opportunity to pursue their musical aspirations, on and off the field.
“Everything we do this season just feels like a huge honor to be a part of… I came to Michigan and it was just a fact that I would audition for the band,” said Zhang, demonstrating both her steadfast intentions and how far opportunities for women have come over the past 50 years.
The university now has a dedicated Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office, which provides support, resources and education promoting a safe and nondiscriminatory learning, living and working environment for all members of the university community, and ensuring equal opportunity for all.