List of United States military premier ensembles

A detachment of "The President's Own", the U.S. Marine Band, appears with First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2015.
A detachment of "The President's Own", the U.S. Marine Band, appears with First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2015.

A premier ensemble is a term used in the United States Armed Forces to refer to a military band that has special status. Premier ensembles are configured and commanded so as to attract the highest-quality musicians available, and competition for enlistment is typically fierce. Unlike non-premier ensembles, which provide musical support to specific military units or commands, premier ensembles exist to promote the U.S. military to the public at large, to support state ceremonies, and to preserve the heritage of American martial music. There are currently eleven such units.


Organization and personnel

Each of the five branches of the U.S. armed forces designates one or more of its military bands as premier ensembles, however, the exact terminology used to describe such units varies (the U.S. Army uses the term "Special Bands"). While branch-wide, as opposed to unit-specific, bands had existed since the formation of the U.S. Marine Band in the 1790s, the idea of forming superior music ensembles posted in the vicinity of Washington, D.C. originated with John Pershing in the early 1920s and formalized with the transition of the U.S. Navy School of Music from a training program for naval bandsmen to a multi-service institute responsible for Navy, Marine Corps, and Army premier musicians in 1951.[1][2][3]

Image showing the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets.
The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, the U.S. president's fanfare unit, are a component of the U.S. Army Band, a premier ensemble.

New enlistees in premier ensembles automatically enter at the rank of E6 (a staff sergeant in the Army, or petty officer, first class, in the Navy) and enjoy enlistment contracts that guarantee they are not deployable outside the United States, meaning competition for billets is fierce.[4][5] These organizations have typically attracted the highest-caliber musicians available,[4][5] selected through a competitive audition process.[6]

In the past, some premier ensembles have been administered separately from the rest of their branch's bands; they generally do not have any duties other than musical performance. During wartime, by contrast, non-premier U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army bands reconfigure into light infantry units responsible for rear-area defense and EPW security.[4][5][7][8] Personnel of the U.S. Marine Band forgo recruit training altogether; instead, after enlistment under a four-year contract, they are directly assigned to their duty station at the Marine Barracks in Washington, where they receive on-the-job training to provide them with the necessary military skills required to perform their role.[6]


Premier ensembles are tasked with promoting the image of the U.S. armed forces through public performances, concerts, and parades. They also support official government ceremonies such as state visits, are used as recording groups to produce the music used in recruiting advertisements and other military media collateral, and provide ceremonial support to the corps of cadets and midshipmen at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis), U.S. Air Force Academy, and U.S. Coast Guard Academy.[9][10][11]

Bands currently designated as premier ensembles

Eleven of the U.S. military's 137 active-duty and reserve bands are currently designated "premier ensembles", including four U.S. Army bands, four U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps bands, two U.S. Air Force bands, and one U.S. Coast Guard band.[12][5] Of the eleven premier ensembles, the U.S. Marine Band is the oldest, having been activated in 1798.[13]

U.S. Army unit U.S. Marine Corps unit U.S. Air Force unit U.S. Navy unit U.S. Coast Guard unit
Ensemble Performance sample DUI, Badge, Emblem, or Logo
Post or Station Description

U.S. Marine Band
1798[13] The U.S. Marine Band is the oldest professional music organization in the United States.[13][14][15] Designated "the President's Own" by Thomas Jefferson, its most notable director was John Philip Sousa, who led the group from 1880 to 1892.[13]

West Point Band
1844[16] The West Point band provides musical support to the West Point Corps of Cadets during drills and parades, and also represents the U.S. Army in broadcast performances on the Big Three television networks.[16]

"Melody Shop"
1852[17] The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) Band provides musical support to the USNA Corps of Midshipmen and performs for military ceremonies, ship commissioning, and funerals in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region.[17]

U.S. Army Band
"The Rifle Regiment"
1922[18] Known as "Pershing's Own" in honor of its original patron, General of the Armies of the United States John J. Pershing, the U.S. Army Band performs for major state events in Washington, D.C. and is the only Washington-based military band to have participated in a theater of foreign combat operations (World War II's Rhineland campaign).[18]

U.S. Navy Band
"Hands Across the Sea"
1925[19] The successor to the Washington Navy Yard Band, the U.S. Navy Band is composed of a concert band, ceremonial (marching) band, Sea Chanters (concert choir), Commodores (jazz band), Country Current (country music ensemble), and Cruisers (pop group).[19]

U.S. Coast Guard Band
"The Tall Ship Eagle"
1925[20] The U.S. Coast Guard Band provides musical support to the USCGA Corps of Cadets. It performs at official Coast Guard functions, public concerts, and parades. It is the Coast Guard's only active-duty band.[20]

U.S. Marine Drum
and Bugle Corps
"Washington Post March"
1934[21] The 80-piece U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps is known as "the Commandant's Own" and performs the Friday-evening sunset parade at Marine Barracks Washington and the Tuesday-evening memorials at the Iwo Jima Monument.[21]

U.S. Air Force Band
"Honor with Dignity"
1941[22] The successor to the Bolling Army Air Forces Band, the U.S. Air Force Band supports state and Air Force official events in the Washington, D.C. area, as well as undertaking national performance tours to promote the Air Force.[22]

U.S. Army Field Band
"Army Strong"
1946[23] The U.S. Army Field Band tours nationally, both as a full ensemble or as smaller specialized and chamber groups, to perform in support of civic events such as centennial celebrations, sports competitions, festivals, and city or state commemorations.[24]

"March for a New Era"
1955[25] The U.S. Air Force Academy Band provides ceremonial musical support to the Air Force Academy's Corps of Cadets.[25]

Old Guard Fife
and Drum Corps
"Bugle Quickstep"
1960[26] The 69-member Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is part of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment, the presidential escort regiment. It is a fife and drum corps that performs on 10-hole fifes, handmade rope-tensioned drums and single-valve bugles.[26]


  1. Pincus, Walter (24 August 2010). "Vast number of military bands may not be music to Gates's ears". Washington Post. Fine Print. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  2. Piehler, Kurt (2013). Encyclopedia of Military Science. SAGE Publications. pp. 201–203. ISBN 1452276323.
  3. Army Bands Army Regulation 220–90. U.S. Army. 2007. pp. 7–9.
  4. 1 2 3 Midgette, Anne (19 July 2014). "Military bands offer musicians great jobs, similar challenges to orchestras". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Carden, Eddie (15 May 2008). "Musicians in the Military". Halftime Magazine. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  6. 1 2 "Musicians". U.S. Marine Corps. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  7. Lacy, Linda (2004). We are Marines!: World War I to the Present. pp. 292–293. ISBN 1599758873.
  8. "Army Band SRC 12113L000". Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  9. Nardin, Glen. "Military Bands – What's the Real Story?". U.S. Army. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  10. Moore, Kimberly (15 October 2010). "Music, Culture, and Society (Or Why You Shouldn't Cut Military Bands)". Psychology Today. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  11. Fitzgerald, Mike (19 January 2016). "Pentagon Playing 'Taps' for Military Bands and Entertainment Shows". Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  12. Mitchell, Ellen (16 May 2016). "The Pentagon's battle of the bands". Politico. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  13. 1 2 3 4 "About the President's Own". U.S. Marine Corps. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  14. Sheir, Rebecca (13 November 2015). "The United States Marine Band Seeks Its Next Young Soloist". WAMU-FM. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  15. Roberts, Jane (25 September 2015). "Marine Band to appear at Overton High". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  16. 1 2 "West Point Band – About". U.S. Army. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  17. 1 2 "About". U.S. Naval Academy. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  18. 1 2 "Historical Overview". U.S. Army. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  19. 1 2 "Navy Yard Band". U.S. Navy. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  20. 1 2 "Our History". U.S. Coast Guard. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  21. 1 2 Keller, Scott (2004). Marine Pride: A Salute to America's Elite Fighting Force. Citadel Press. pp. 9–10. ISBN 0806526033.
  22. 1 2 "About the U.S. Air Force Band". U.S. Air Force. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  23. "Newspaper, arts center partner to bring Army band to Ashland". Lebanon Daily Record. Associated Press. 7 March 2016. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  24. "Touring Mission". U.S. Army. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  25. 1 2 "About Us". U.S. Air Force. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  26. 1 2 "About the Corps". U.S. Army. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
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