2013: The 49er Drumline
The creation of the UNC Charlotte Marching Band has represented an extraordinary partnership between the Charlotte community and the university.
The initiative began in May of 2013—less than four months before the Charlotte 49ers football team would mark its first-ever game with a 52–7 home victory. Vickie and Gene Johnson, two of the university’s most loyal alums, felt strongly that game days would not be complete without live music. There were no plans at that time for a marching band, so the Johnsons decided to create a drumline. Within a matter of days, Gene and Vickie had donated and raised enough commitments from other community leaders to purchase drums and related equipment, hire a staff, and provide scholarships for 25 students.
The creation of the drumline generated a great deal of excitement in the Charlotte community, including an article in the Charlotte Observer. Time Warner News and WCNC came out to video the auditions on July 27, which were followed by a weeklong camp. When it was all said and done, 25 students would stake their claim to being inaugural members of the 49er Drumline.
The drumline’s first season was a remarkable success. But the work was not done. During the fall of 2013, UNC Charlotte started making bold plans for a new marching band that would perform starting in Fall 2015. These plans included hiring a staff, purchasing instruments and uniforms, building a $2 million music annex to house the new program, and raising a $4.5 million endowment to support scholarships and band camp. Again, the community responded with great enthusiasm, with reports by WBTV, WFAE, the Charlotte Business Journal , and the Charlotte Observer.
2014: Planning for a Marching Band
By Fall 2014, the planning was turning into action. Inaugural Director of Athletic Bands Dr. Jeff Miller joined the faculty and with Director of Bands Dr. Shawn Smith quickly started recruiting students to continue the drumline and augment the Basketball Band, with plans to combine the groups with a new color guard to form a 150-member marching band the following year. The Basketball Band quickly grew in both size and quality. In Spring 2014, there were 18 students enrolled in the band. By Fall 2014, there were 47.
The groundbreaking of the new music annex and the plans to name the band were also met with excitement in the community, including a story in the Charlotte Business Journal. The best news of all—reported by both the Charlotte Observer and WCNC—was of a gift of $2 million from Vickie and Gene Johnson to support the marching band. The Johnson gift was even the subject of an article in Half Time magazine. In recognition of the Johnsons’ leadership in rallying the community behind the marching band, the university announced that both the new building and the scholarship fund would forever bear their names.
In the weeks following the groundbreaking of the Vickie and Gene Johnson Marching Band Center, the marching band unveiled its new first uniform to loud applause during the halftime of the Charlotte 49ers homecoming game. Just days later, the marching band got its name. After soliciting 366 suggestions from throughout the Charlotte community, the students in the 49er Drumline and the Basketball Band voted to call the band the “Pride of Niner Nation.”
2015: The Pride of Niner Nation
The UNC Charlotte “Pride of Niner Nation” Marching Band took the field in Fall 2015, when the Charlotte 49ers football team becomes a member of NCAA Division I Conference USA. But the work is still not done! Starting a marching band has always and will always be a community effort. If you are a student who would like to help us start new traditions, we’d love to hear from you. If you are a member of the community who would like to help us continue to raise money for scholarships, please consider making a donation today.