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1st female drummer in Ohio State marching band reflects on 50-year mark since women joined the band

There were five women who were the first to go across the field at The Ohio State University, one of them being Susan Johnson.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — No matter what the final score is at the end of each Buckeye game, fans can always count on The Best Damn Band in the Land to put on a show. But like most great things, there was a time where not everyone was allowed to participate.

There were five women who were the first to go across the field at The Ohio State University in 1973, one of them being Susan Johnson. It now marks 50 years since women were welcomed into the band.

Susan Johnson was in second grade at Pickerington Elementary School when she first saw Ohio State's marching band perform. 

"They were the best band that I have ever heard. It was an incredible sound," Johnson said, looking back to the parade she attended at age 7. "I fell in love with the drums. I had my father put me on his shoulders and I just couldn't stop listening to them and I followed them on down the road."

Since then, she had her mind set on making the drumline and joining the best band in the land.

Johnson said she told her dad she wanted to march in the marching band.

“He said, 'I don't think you're going to be able to because the band's all men - it's all boys.' And I said, well that'll change,' said Johnson.

And it did change, 50 years ago this season.

Johnson said Title IX went into effect when she was entering her freshman year of college, allowing for more equality of minorities and women. But making the cut for the band was different story.

The tryouts were very demanding and required quick learning and a lot of skill.

“They did not want me in the band, the drum section. The drum section was very very vocal, and they knew I was coming and they were ready for me,” said Johnson.

After narrowing down the 66 male snare drummer candidates to about a dozen --plus Susan, they lined them up to march a formation. 

The last one standing, who didn't make a mistake, would get the last spot.

Credit: Susan Johnson

“There were two guys left, one on either side of me. And finally there was just two of us...the last person gave up. Somebody stripped my drum off and they threw me up in the air and caught me and, it was over! It was over!” 

After more than four hours marching in the heat of August, Susan was the last one standing. And she has stood for the thousands of women to follow her for the past 50 years. She frequently comes back for alumni events and donates to make sure the band has the best equipment and training out there. Susan also still keeps in touch with the other four women who joined the year she did.

“It's so exciting and so fulfilling to see women in the band, and now it seems like the band is about 50/50!” said Susan.

Credit: WBNS-10TV

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