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Texas band members will be required to play ‘Eyes of Texas’

As Texas wrangles with controversy around its school song, “The Eyes of Texas,” the university announced Wednesday that all members of the Longhorn Band and Longhorn Pep Band will be required to play it.

As part of the announcement, Texas also announced the formation of a University Band beginning in fall 2022 that would allow students to perform in a marching band for academic credit, while not requiring them to play the university alma mater or fight song. Texas said the Longhorn Band will perform at official university and sporting events, while the University Band “will have opportunities” to perform at similar events and other venues.

A movement to re-examine the alma mater began last June, when Texas athletes shared a group statement through social media calling for changes to make the campus more inclusive, including replacing “The Eyes of Texas” and ending a requirement that athletes be required to sing it. In March, a Texas committee that studied the origins of the song, which originally debuted in a minstrel show in Austin in 1903 and was likely first performed by singers wearing blackface, released a 58-page report that found that the song “debuted in a racist setting, exceedingly common for the time, but, as the preponderance of research showed, had no racist intent.”

In the early part of the 2020 football season, players refused to stay on the field for the song, before changing course in October after athletic director Chris Del Conte met with the team and said he hoped the Longhorns would stand together to honor the fans.

Upon the release of the school’s study of the song, Texas president Jay Hartzell told the Longhorn Network that athletes would not be required to stay on the field or sing “The Eyes of Texas.”

“My hope is that we’ll get to a point where people feel good about staying on the field and honoring each other, whether it’s fans in the stands honoring the student-athletes, student-athletes honoring support from the fans,” Hartzell said. “But nobody’s going to be required or mandated to stay on the field. Or certainly to sing the song.”

For Longhorn Band members, this new policy ends a season of uncertainty after the student paper, The Daily Texan, reported in October that the Longhorn Band could not perform at any upcoming football games, because it “didn’t have the necessary instrumentation” due to a survey of band members who objected to playing “The Eyes.” Texas responded by saying it did not expect the band to play at upcoming games because of COVID-19 precautions, and continued playing a recorded version of the song over the stadium loudspeakers.

With this announcement, Hartzell and Texas made expectations for the band clear.

“We need to celebrate and nurture what makes UT special, and the Longhorn Band is one of those great organizations that shape our campus culture, elevate school spirit and provide amazing opportunities for our students,” Hartzell said in the release.

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