I’ve got a soft spot for people who take on the status quo — of an industry, a sport, an art form — and then turn it upside down and inside out. Think Marcel Duchamp for art. Or Ray Kroc for restaurants. Or Bill Walsh for football.

One such person passed away this weekend: William P. Foster, whose obituary runs in today’s New York Times. Foster was a consummate outsider — an African-American clarinetist who aspired to become a symphony conductor, only to realize that his race prevented him from attaining that position.

So instead Foster decided to reinvent the marching band. He abandoned the staid, military-style, Sousa-centric, lockstep approach prevalent at most football half-times — and replaced it with “shows that infused black popular culture into his routines, blending contemporary music, often jazz or rock, with imaginative choreography, his green-and-orange uniformed band members carrying their instruments at a 45-degree angle, legs bent to the same angle.”

These action-packed, dynamic shows were huge crowd pleasers. Foster’s Florida A&M Marching 100 ended up performing for presidents and prime ministers. And along the way, he — like other innovators of his ilk — established not just a new standard, but a new vernacular for his profession. To get a small taste, check out the clip below. Then ponder how you can be more like the man students called “The Maestro.”

7 Responses to “What a fabled marching band can teach you about innovation”

  1. Justin Brady says:

    Very cool. I was the a University of Iowa game (Go Hawks!) where they did thriller. I have seen so many variations of this song, BUT when you see an entire marching band choreograph this song to perfection and walk around like zombies, it is quite astounding. Thanks for sharing Dan.

  2. Audra says:

    Another reinvention: Mucca Pazza- the amazing circus punk marching band! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4h-_8c1cKc

  3. Well, I dont see very much real enthousiasm with the public. Not good enough anyway.

  4. Daniel – What I like about this is the soft innovation. Taking something that everyone holds standard and changing the rules.

    I love when people reinvent industries. Sometimes reinventing an industry can be more rewarding than creating a new industry.

  5. Evan says:

    Nice post, Daniel! I am going to share this with my Son. Thank you.

  6. Cheryl says:

    The FAMU Marching 100 set THE standard for modern college marching bands.

  7. B. Coleman says:

    Daniel, I was moved to tears by this video because I experienced the era where the color of your skin denied participation in main stream america’s events and activities. I played trombone (first woman) in our high school band, not knowing then that our marching routines were based on William P. Foster’s marching band concepts. Thanks you for this article.

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