Getting the Band Back Together

Charter members of the Marching Blazers share 25th-anniversary memories
By Brett Bralley • Header photo courtesy of UAB Archives
UAB Archives photo of Marching Blazers from 1990s
Charter members of the Marching Blazers share 25th-anniversary memories
By Brett Bralley • Header photo courtesy of UAB Archives
In the fall of 1994, the Marching Blazers performed on a football field for the first time. It happened in Montgomery at an away game, and the 140 band members got into formation wearing polo shirts and khakis. Twenty-five years later, the Marching Blazers, now 240 members strong, are a beloved UAB tradition whose sound and striking, Blaze-inspired uniforms are synonymous with school spirit.
Marching Blazers alumni reunited with the current band for an anniversary halftime show at the 2019 Homecoming game. Led by Sean Murray, Ph.D., director of bands in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Music, they performed the program from the inaugural 1994 season. Ahead of their return to the field, a few band members from that first season shared favorite memories:
Connie Clayton graduated in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in secondary math education. Today she lives in Pinson, Alabama, and is a teacher for Jefferson County schools. Her son, Gabriel Clayton, is a freshman at UAB and plays baritone for the Marching Blazers.
Photo of current band member Gabriel Clayton with his mother, Connie Clayton, at Legion FieldConnie Clayton (right) visits her son, Gabriel, at Legion Field. Photo courtesy of Connie Clayton. Top photo: The 1994 Marching Blazers perform at Legion Field. Photo courtesy of UAB Archives.
Clayton: “Being part of the Marching Blazers was something I never expected to happen at UAB. My junior year, I was walking to class in the Education Building when I saw a group of students spinning flags outside the Humanities Building. Out of curiosity, I changed my route to cruise by them. Long story short, I added marching band to my schedule and became a charter member of the Marching Blazers.
“I made more friends that year than any other year in college. Being a member of the band gave me a sense of purpose: I was more than a student. Today I have a sense of pride knowing I was one of the original members of the band.
“I’m excited about being a part of this year’s alumni band. I get to return to the field and see the band perform the same music we performed, and my son is marching as a freshman. I feel that this is a unique experience for UAB, for a mother and son to share the field.”
Ashley Dunn played trombone for the Marching Blazers in 1994 and again from 2008 to 2011. She graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in music with a concentration in music instrumental education. She lives in Mount Olive, Alabama, and works for the Department of Veterans Affairs as an education technician in the employee education system of the Veterans Health Administration.
Photo of Ashley Dunn as a band member around 2009-2010Ashley Dunn cheers with the Marching Blazers around 2009-2010, after she returned to UAB and the band. Photo courtesy of Ashley Dunn.
Dunn: “I was recruited from Gardendale High School, and as a freshman I was the only female trombone player in the charter year. A major deciding factor in attending UAB was that in high school I was selected for the UAB Honor Band, conducted by Dr. Clifford “Ski” Winter [then an associate professor of music]. I fell in love with his ability to teach and his podium personality. His drive to get a marching band started for UAB was one of the many actions during that period that helped grow what was known as a commuter school into a major university.
“I remember how unique we were in our newness. We practiced on a field next to University Boulevard and started new traditions, which included the band breaking it down and dancing mid-show. Our first game was an away game against Alabama State University—and we weren’t even in uniforms yet. We marched in polo shirts and khaki pants. It was our first show at Legion Field when we were able to strut out in beautiful green and white uniforms and present ourselves for the first time to the city of Birmingham.”
Jennifer Heard graduated in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She lives in Anniston, Alabama, and works for BBVA as a sales productivity specialist.
Photo of color guard alumni in stands at Legion Field(Left to right) Charter color guard members Janice House, Jennifer Heard, Connie Clayton, and Karen Duffey Miller reunite at Legion Field. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Heard.
Heard: “Being part of the Marching Blazers as the first color guard captain was an amazing experience. Dr. Winter did an amazing job of making the Marching Blazers come together out of nothing. At that time, I was just having fun and doing what I loved. Looking back on it now, it was one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life.
“A funny memory I have is our “section mixers.” Since we were a new band coming together, not knowing one another at all, somebody (and I want to say it was the tuba section) came up with the idea of having section mixers. Each week, two different sections would have a get-together so that members could meet one another and hang out.
“Being the first color guard captain helped me develop leadership skills that I might not have otherwise developed. I was responsible for picking out the uniform we would wear, designing flags, and creating patterns—and then my mom sewed all of them for us! It makes me extremely proud to have been a part of creating something that endures today. I went to a game last year and started crying when I saw the color guard doing a routine during pre-game that I made up 25 years ago!”
Jeremy McFall graduated in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in music education. He lives in Hayden, Alabama, with his family and directs high school and middle school bands.
McFall: “I was a trumpet player for the Marching Blazers and served as trumpet section leader my last two years. I’ll always remember our first performance down in Montgomery at the old Cramton Bowl. The Blazers were taking on Alabama State that sticky Saturday night. When we played the fight song for the first time as the team ran out of the locker room, the excitement from our fans was pretty amazing.
“Being a charter member 25 years ago gives me a sense of pride. To be a part of the very first of anything at a university is simply amazing. My charter member plaque hangs in my office at Dora High School. I am director of bands there and at Sumiton Middle School.
“I stay connected to UAB by attending football and basketball games. My son now participates in band events at UAB. It's really cool to see him be a part of something I was once a part of.”

Photo of Jeremy McFall and other early band members in uniform at Legion Field in 1994Jeremy McFall (back row, second from right) and other members of the trumpet section gather during a game at Legion Field in 1994. Photo courtesy of Jeremy McFall.

Published November 2019