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FARGO — North Dakota State University’s Gold Star Marching Band has a lot to celebrate. Last month, the band marked 100 years of superior musical marching, and this month, the band is welcoming its first corporate sponsor.

More than 100 years ago, then-North Dakota Agricultural College had an ROTC cadet band whose musical prowess secured enough superiors to earn a gold star rating from the United States Army Authorities, according to an Oct. 17, 1923, Spectrum article. The band’s founder and director, Clarence “Doc” Putnam, was so proud of the rating he incorporated it into the band’s name and put stars on the uniforms.

And the Gold Star Marching Band was born.

Even though marching bands are no longer rated, the Pride of North Dakota continues showcasing its musical excellence at NDSU, and its annual

“Sounds of the Gridiron” concert

on Sunday, Nov. 12, will bring that talent to the Fargodome without the accompanying football game.

NDSU’s Gold Star Marching Band celebrates 100th anniversary of name, secures 1st corporate sponsor – InForum
While performing during home football games is the largest endeavor the band takes on, the Bison Pep Band is a smaller entity that plays at all home volleyball, men’s basketball and women’s basketball games.
Photo courtesy of Gretchen Barker / NDSU

The free concert kicks off at 2 p.m. with a silent auction on the east concourse from 1 to 2 p.m. The concert is being sponsored by Gateway Chevrolet, the first local business that has signed on to become a corporate sponsor of the band.

“Gateway likes to support the community, so they seemed like a great and logical business to approach,” said Director of Athletic Bands Connor Challey. He’s been at the helm for two years after serving four years as assistant to his predecessor,

Sigurd Johnson.

Sunday’s family-friendly concert

will feature music from the band’s shows this year as well as highlight the talented student musicians who work hard to provide a fun musical atmosphere in the Fargodome.

“In my mind, (the concert) is for people who haven’t been to a football game in a while to come and see the band and check out all the fun things we do,” Challey said.

In addition to the Gold Star Marching Band performing at home football games, the Bison Pep Band performs at all home volleyball, men’s basketball and women’s basketball games, as well as pep rallies and other events for various campus organizations.

With more than 150 members in the full marching band, equipment and uniforms are always in need of replacement. The band’s box truck also recently died, which complicates getting equipment to and from rehearsals, Challey said.

The NDSU Gold Star Marching Band lead the homecoming parade down University Drive starting at 17th Avenue North in Fargo on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. This was the first time in 11 years the parade took place on campus. Chris Flynn / The Forum
Chris Flynn / The Forum

Though details have yet to be worked out regarding the sponsorship, Challey said the support from Gateway as well as other campus entities are a sign that the band is a much-loved and appreciated fixture at NDSU.

“We’re getting amazing support from the president and student government and the foundation and athletics,” he said. “The campus is really stepping up for us.”

Last month during Homecoming, the Gold Star Marching Band performed music written by Putnam during his 41-year tenure as band director. Challey said they even brought out some old uniforms from decades past. “The show was a lot of fun and helped teach the history of the band,” he said.

While the name itself is 100 years old, the band has been a part of campus since 1902 when a Spectrum article stated the first meeting of the Agricultural College Cadet Band was held on Jan. 9 with 27 students. A local musician was tapped to lead the band, but he left in April 1903.

Putnam was a Dartmouth College-educated doctor who also happened to be a musician. He began practicing medicine in Fargo around 1883 and 20 years later, he lost his practice to a fire just five days after his insurance expired, according to a

2009 Dakota Datebook article.

He ended up taking a position at the agricultural college teaching math and found himself in charge of the ROTC Cadet Band, which eventually became called the Gold Star Band thanks to Putnam’s early efforts in teaching musical and marching excellence.

That tradition continues today.

“We really want to be a representative of the marching arts and be able to help our region because we’re one of the only schools that does field shows, thanks to the Fargodome,” Challey said. “We really want to be around to help support other bands and be a representative of this awesome activity.”

Anyone interested in supporting the Gold Star Marching Band or other musical entities can donate on

NDSU Giving Day on Nov. 30

and mark their contribution under the Sports Bands fund. Gateway has agreed to match a portion of the funds raised.

“That would go towards helping us in a big way,” Challey said.

What: Sounds of the Gridiron concert
When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12
Where: Fargodome
Info: Free,

Danielle Teigen has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and management communication as well as a master’s degree in mass communication from North Dakota State University. She has worked for Forum Communications since May 2015, first as a digital content manager before becoming the Life section editor and then deputy editor. In 2020, Danielle moved back to her hometown in South Dakota, where she works remotely for Forum Communications as managing editor of On the Minds of Moms as well as writes occasional news and history stories.

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