A cornet band of 10 pieces was organized by Professor Albert Lugar during 1881-82 to furnish music for drills and parades. Known as the Glade Cornet Band, it contained both students and townspeople and did no marching. Because band members wore the initials of the band’s name on their hats—GCB—cadets began calling the group the Goose Creek Boys. In the spring 1892 a drum and bugle corps was organized to accompany cadets marching to and from mess.
The first Band Company was organized in 1892 with 16 members and Cadet Clifford W. Anderson as its leader. The War Department issued 23 musical instruments to the college for the band’s use, and it made its first trip in 1893—to nearby Roanoke’s decennial celebration. On its second trip in 1893—to Norfolk—it accompanied the corps and participated in a competitive drill, which VPI won and was awarded two cannons, which were placed on the Upper Quad. The college also hired its first band director in 1893: James Patton Harvey.
The origin of the band’s famed nickname, Highty-Tighties, has been surrounded in legend, but the true story is that the name came to be applied to the band slowly down through the years after 1919. A somewhat crude company yell was composed during the fall 1919 that contained the catch phrase “Highty-Tightie!” as the first line. As time passed and the band continued to use a modified version of the yell, other members of the corps applied the phrase to the band itself.
Other popular legends surround the white citation cord that all band members wear. President Julian A. Burruss authorized white citation cords for members of the band in the fall 1935 at the same time he authorized white citation cords for honor companies.
The band tried to enlist in the Spanish-American War in 1898 as a unit but was not allowed to do so. Most of the members resigned from college anyway and enlisted as bandsmen with the Second Virginia Regiment of Volunteer Infantry. The war ended while the regiment was still training in Florida.
The band performed at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901 and played John Phillip Sousa’s “Thunderer March” as it passed him in review. Sousa had his own band play a march in return to acknowledge the VPI band’s salute to him. In 1902, as the band marched past President Theodore Roosevelt at the Charleston Exposition, he called them “the nation’s strength.” He reviewed them again in 1907 at the Jamestown Exposition.
The band has achieved a great deal of fame through the years by winning scores of first place trophies in parade competitions. In 1953, 1957, and 1961 the band won first place in the presidential inaugural parade’s senior band-marching competition, a feat never achieved by any other band and possibly one reason why the competition is no longer held. The band also represented the Commonwealth of Virginia in presidential inaugural parades in 1973, 1977, and 1997 and played for President Reagan in Washington, D. C., during its centennial year in 1983. It performed for Reagan again in 1985 at a presidential dinner held as part of the Conservative Political Action Conference in D.C. It also marched in presidential inaugural parades in 1917, 1934, 1965, 1969, 1981, and 2005.
Among its many other appearances, the regimental band helped open the New York World’s Fair in 1964, leading the opening day’s parade, and participated in the closing ceremonies of the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. In 1984 it performed for the 11th Annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., where guests included President Reagan and Vice President Bush. It has marched in the Thomas Edison Festival of Lights Parade in Ft. Myers, Fla; the Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington, D. C.; a Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys game at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington; numerous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades; and a number of Christmas and Thanksgiving Day parades in Atlanta and New York City.
Although women joined the corps of cadets in 1973, they were not allowed into the Highty-Tighties, even though students from Radford College, the Women’s Division of VPI, had been allowed to play in the band on a temporary basis during World War II. In 1971 a women’s drill team—attired in white hot-pants; sleeveless, navy blue tops; white boots; and white tams—was organized to march with the band. In 1975 the decision was made to admit women into the band because of their outstanding record since joining the corps. Unlike other female corps members at the time, the female band members wore the same uniform as their male counterparts. The first female cadet to serve as drum major of the band was Vicki G. Saville, selected for the position in 1977, and the first African-American female cadet to serve as regimental band commander, Lisa Williams, followed in 1986
In 1975 band alumni formed a non-profit corporation, Highty-Tighty Alumni Inc., with Charles O. Cornelison as president, “to promote and preserve the fraternal, educational, musical, and leadership qualities embodied in the Virginia Tech Regimental Band through constructive, organized efforts of its alumni.” Band membership that year reached an all-time low of 65 members. Nonetheless, the band—and the Gregory Guard—played a role in the nation’s bicentennial activities, with the Gregory Guard participating in the National Pershing Rifle Drill Team competition in New York City and the Highty-Tighties appearing in the Yorktown Festival.