University of Alabama Million Dollar Band

After 100 years of national prominence in the college marching band scene, the Million Dollar Band’s anniversary is more than just a celebration. Dr. Kenneth Ozzello, director of the renowned band for 10 years, talks history and the band’s year in the national limelight.

Photo by Dr. Jonathan Whitaker

Dr. Kenneth Ozzello knows the Million Dollar Band like the back of his hand. Not only is Ozzello in his 10th year as marching band director at the University of Alabama, but he has been with the ensemble in some capacity for 23 years. He also serves as director of bands and conductor of the wind ensemble. With a band of more than 400 members and a loyal alumni association, Ozzello credits the group’s success to those involved and the tradition that is kept alive as they travel the country in support of Crimson Tide athletics.

Halftime: While the Million Dollar Band is celebrating its centennial, you have an anniversary of your own, correct?

Ozzello: It’s been 10 years since I became director, but I’ve actually been with the band since 1989. I started as an assistant for the band first, and I’ve been here ever since.

Halftime: How many directors have there been over the years?

Ozzello: There haven’t been a lot of directors, which I think has a lot to do with the success of the program. Over the last 50 or 60 years, there have only been four [primary] directors for the Million Dollar Band, which is incredible. There was Col. Charleton K. Butler, who was there for over 30 years, then Jim Ferguson … then there was Kathryn Scott for close to 20 years!

Halftime: Aside from only a few directors, what else do you feel contributes to the success of the band?

Ozzello: There’s the support of the university itself, which values the ambassadorship the band does spreading the good word of the mission of the university. Also there are the games on TV just about every Saturday, which is helpful when you’re trying to recruit talented students to the program.

Halftime: How large is the overall organization?

Ozzello: In the band itself, we have 424 people this year. We also have the Million Dollar Band Alumni Association, and anybody who was a part of the band can join that organization. Its main mission is to raise scholarship dollars for the band program, so we can attract talent to the band. The alumni association has several thousand members.

Halftime: What makes your band unique?

Ozzello: We only use piccolos, usually around 24 and 30 total. Piccolos are easier to hear on the field and also aesthetically, it’s easier to maneuver with a piccolo in your hand than a flute. Also, there are many generations all at once involved. It’s always interesting just how many husbands meet their wives in the band and then have children, and then their children are in the group—so definitely many generations.

Halftime: The Million Dollar Band has an extensive and rich history from a student-led military band to achieving national prominence in the 1930’s. In your opinion, what are some of the band’s crowning achievements?

Ozzello: I think that our football team has around 15 national championships [including this year’s title], and the Million Dollar Band has been at every one of those games. The band has been such an important part of the fabric of [the university’s sports program], and the organization has not only survived but flourished over the 100 years. I think it’s a credit to all of the people who have been in the organization and to all of the teachers.

Halftime: In 2003, you won the Sudler Trophy. Can you tell us a little about what that was like?

Ozzello: Sure! It’s a national award given to a marching band and given based on a history of excellence over a long time. The panel of people that choose who gets the Sudler are former winners, so it’s really a peer award. Any time you’re honored by your peers, it’s nice to honor those who have passed through the band, and it’s really about a history of cumulative success.

Halftime: With the Million Dollar Band’s national prominence, you have had the opportunity to play at a variety of venues. Where was your favorite place to perform?

Ozzello: I think this year we had one of my favorite moments. When we had our centennial, we had all of those present in the band and over 500 alumni all on the field at the same time and performed at halftime. That was one of the most special moments in the history of the band. They participated, had a great time, and the crowd reacted very positively. I think having everybody come back to celebrate the centennial was one of the highlights. Also, all the significant football games we’ve been in and especially in the last four, five years.

Halftime: What does it mean for the band to perform at this year’s BCS National Championship game during the band’s 100th anniversary season?

Ozzello: It’s perfect! We couldn’t have come up with a better scenario with the anniversary and playing at the national championship game. We [were] very excited about it!

Halftime: What special activities and events did Alabama have for this year’s bowl trip?

Ozzello: There’s a big pep rally Saturday down there, and then we [did] several alumni functions the day of the game. The Fan Fest [was] in South Beach.

Halftime: What is your favorite Million Dollar Band tradition?

Ozzello: My favorite tradition is something I brought to the band as a director. We play the alma mater at any important function, whether it be a class rehearsal or just before a game. We even let special people and guests conduct. But there are plenty of other interesting traditions as well.

About the Author

Samantha Berley graduated with honors from California State University, Northridge, with a B.A. in English and a strong passion for anything musical. As a teenager, Samantha ate, slept and played music for seven years through concert and marching band. She is currently finding new ways to combine all of her passions through writing.

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