Tenn. marching band, in inaugurals since 1965, not invited this year

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Jan. 20, 1965, marked the beginning of Lyndon B. Johnson's first full presidential term and the start of a long tradition for the University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland marching band.

The band has marched in every inaugural parade since then. But the collegiate musicians won't be visiting Washington, D.C., this year for Barack Obama's second swearing-in ceremony.

Band director Gary Sousa said he was told the Pride didn't receive an invitation because it had performed "too many times" in the past.

"To say that we are disappointed isn't even the tip of the iceberg. It is an extremely sad moment for us," Sousa said.

Hopeful parade participants submit an application and are selected by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Each state gets one group to represent it in the ceremony.

The Dobyns-Bennett High School marching band from Kingsport, Tenn., will be going to Washington in place of the Pride later this month.

Sousa said the Pride was devastated not only by not being able to represent Tennessee, but also by the lack of respect the committee seems to have for tradition.

"We were the only civilian group to perform as many times consecutively as we had," Sousa said. "It's very, very tough because we believe so strongly in tradition and doing our best to represent the state. It's just a new generation and a new way of looking at things."

Cody Stricklin, drum major for the band, said he considers himself lucky to be a fifth-year senior, because -- unlike fourth-year seniors who have been anxiously awaiting their inaugural debut -- he was in the band for Obama's first inauguration.

"It was something that was really special for me, and I was hoping to be able to share it with everyone else," Stricklin said. "It's just a memory that not a lot of people get to have.

"Being able to march down Pennsylvania Avenue, even though it's freezing cold and you feel like your fingers are about to fall off, is something that you'll never be able to forget, especially seeing all the people and the president."

The decision on which bands to invite to the parade was made by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. A separate committee, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, is in charge of planning the actual swearing-in and a few other inaugural events.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., serves on the congressional inaugural committee but had no role in selecting the bands for the parade.

"The decision was made by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and we hope the UT marching band has the opportunity to perform in future inaugural parades," Alexander's office said in a statement.