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UT Longhorn Band Doesn't Have Enough Members Willing To Play 'The Eyes of Texas' On Saturday

The Texas Longhorns will play Baylor at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
The Texas Longhorns will play Baylor at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

The University of Texas Longhorn Band will not play at the next home football game because, the organization says, it will not have enough members willing to play the school song, “The Eyes of Texas.” Band members are divided over playing the song, which has been under scrutiny for its racist roots.

The ensemble was to make its season debut at Saturday’s game against Baylor after missing the first four games of the season for COVID-19 safety measures; the athletic department was hoping to limit the number of people in the stadium on game days and allow as many season-ticket holders as possible into games.

UT said in a statement that it is working with students in the band "to maintain the musical traditions of The University of Texas, including ‘The Eyes of Texas.’”

The decision was first reported by  The Daily Texan after it received the results of an internal survey asking band members if they would play the song. Not enough members were willing to play the song for the band to have the instrumentation needed to play it at Saturday’s game.

Longhorn Band students have been told by directors not to speak to media about the matter— in the middle of the university’s “Free Speech Week” on campus.

The song was written nearly 120 years ago parodying then-UT President William Prather, who frequently used the phrase “the eyes of Texas” because he liked how Confederate General Robert E. Lee would end post-Civil War speeches with “the eyes of the South are upon you.” UT students would put on minstrel shows in blackface singing parodies of Prather’s speeches, and, thus, the school song was born.

The song is sung to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” which was also written and performed for minstrel shows. 

This season, the football team has drawn some criticism for not staying on the field during the song, as has been tradition at UT. Over the summer, when a wave of protests demanding racial justice swept the nation after the death of George Floyd, UT’s Head Coach Tom Herman encouraged his players to make their voices heard. 

“I’ve been blessed ... to play at a university that has a huge platform," Caden Sterns, junior defensive back for the Longhorns, said in June. "And to not use it to help society out and help my community, then that would be a failure to me personally, because it’s bigger than football.”

Student athletes across several sports composed a list of demands in June, including changing building names that honored known racist figures and improving recruitment efforts to bring more students of color to campus. They also asked the school to replace “The Eyes of Texas” or remove the requirement for athletes to stand for the song at the end of all sporting events.

Some of the demands were met with action from the university in July. Buildings were renamed, and a fund was established to recruit students. But the university decided to keep the song. 

So far this season, coach Herman has been consistent with his stance in the summer and has allowed the players to make individual choices.

“If you line 10 guys up in a locker room, you might get nine or 10 different opinions on what we should do, what the song means, what the fans mean, what the university means,” he said Monday in news conference. “So, handling that encouragement with the utmost sensitivity is topic number one for us.” 

He said he is looking for a happy medium where players at least stay on the field to thank fans for coming out to the game.

As for the band, the Dean of the College of Fine Arts Douglas Dempster said last month in a  memo posted online he’s aware that students in the band are divided. 

“Some feel they cannot in good conscience continue to perform it,” he wrote. “Others take pride in the song. And I know yet others are conflicted. This is threatening the unity and viability of the band as a band.”

But in the end, he sees one outcome.

“When the Longhorn Band performs," he wrote, "it will be expected to perform The Eyes of Texas.”

Got a tip? Email Jimmy Maas at jmaas@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @maasdinero.

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