Texas band won't play at final 2 home games amid dispute over spirit song tied to minstrel shows

University of Texas marching band enters the field during the Texas Bowl game between the Texas Longhorns and Missouri Tigers on December 27, 2017 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
UT will continue to play "The Eyes of Texas" over stadium loudspeakers amid protest from band members and athletes. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With dispute still raging over “The Eyes of Texas,” the University of Texas band won’t play at the school’s final two home football games against West Virginia and Iowa State.

The band didn’t play at the school’s previous home game against Baylor after several members objected to playing the school’s alma mater with ties to minstrel shows and Confederate Civil War General Robert E. Lee.

School president Jay Hartzell maintained in October that the song would remain the alma mater amid growing controversy as the origins of the song surfaced. The song was played over the stadium’s loudspeakers during the Baylor game in the band’s absence.

Texas dean of the College of Fine Arts Doug Dempster reiterated the school’s stance on Thursday in a statement announcing the band’s status moving forward.

‘The band will not perform’

“There has been no change of status, and the university’s alma mater will continue to be played from loudspeakers at the game, not by the band,” Dempster said, per The Austin American-Statemsen. “In-person instruction concludes on Nov. 25, after which UT students are expected to be off campus.

“The band will also not perform at the final home football game the day after Thanksgiving on Nov. 27.”

UT board cites ‘longstanding symbol’ of university

The school’s board of regents stood by Hartzell’s proclamation supporting the song in October with a statement from regents chairman chairman Kevin Eltife. The board of regents is appointed entirely by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

“The Eyes of Texas has been UT Austin’s official school song for almost 120 years,” Eltife said in an Oct. 22 statement. “It has been performed at most official events — celebratory or solemn — and sung by proud alumni and students for generations as a common bond of the UT family.

“It is a longstanding symbol of The University’s academic and athletic achievements in its pursuit of excellence.”

Athletes raised flags this summer

Controversy over the song grew over the summer as Texas athletes called for the school to stop playing it, citing a history tied to racism. The song, set to the tune of “I’ve been working on the railroad,” debuted in 1903 at a campus minstrel show featuring white students performing in blackface.

The student band members who wrote it drew inspiration and the song’s title from University president William Prather, who frequently paraphrased Lee in proclaiming “Forward, young men and women of the University, the eyes of Texas are upon you.”

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