It started with a single school and a talented and ambitious band director. Sixty years and 14 State Fair Band Day championships later, the self-proclaimed Band Capital of Indiana has gone full circle.

The first Anderson High School entry in the State Fair marching contest, under the direction of George F. Vaught, was in 1955. The Marching Indians tied for fifth place. At that time they represented the only public high school in the Anderson area.

AHS was second in 1956. In 1957 came the first of three consecutive Band Day titles. And a record 60 consecutive State Fair trips.

By now the Marching Indians were not the only area band at the State Fair. Madison Heights was eighth and Highland 15th in 1958, and in 1959 Highland was sixth and Madison Heights ninth.

The “Band Capital” tag developed in the 1960s when all three consistently placed near the top. In 1962, 1963 and 1964, the three local entrants dominated the top five.

Madison Heights’ first title came in 1963; the Band of Pirates won again in 1980.

Then it was Highland’s turn. The Marching Highlanders’ kilt-clad Scottish motif proved to be as big a hit as they won in 1968, 1970 and 1971.

The three schools brought home 14 championships, more than any other city in the state including all of Marion County. Anderson has been in the top five 28 times, Highland 18 and Madison Heights 13.

Madison Heights was responsible for the Sweet Sixteen designation for the number of bands competing in the finals. Fair officials decided in 1967 to have a championship round following the daytime judging, originally planning a 15-band final. Then came a snafu in the judging, and the original announcement excluded the Band of Pirates. After a hasty protest, scores were re-added and Madison Heights’ tally was indeed high enough. Rather than bump the 15th-place band, the field was broadened to 16, following the high school basketball tradition. Madison Heights went on to finish second in the finals.

Highland and Madison Heights briefly dropped out of state fair competition in the 1970s and 1980s to concentrate on Indiana State School Music Association field band competition, MHHS returning first, then Highland.

Anderson won State Fair titles again in 1985 and 1986. Highland added championships in 2005, 2007 and their last year as a high school, 2009.

Forming a mix of traditions and finding enough uniforms for a combined band resulted in the Marching Highlanders tradition carrying over to the combined school when HHS was merged with Anderson. The result was another state title in 2010. Three fourth places and an eighth have followed.

The Highlander band tradition has served to confuse alumni of all three schools. But as a united school serves as both alpha and omega, time will amalgamate a continuing tradition of its own at Anderson High School.

Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by email at

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