UGA band director explains decision to ban ‘Tara’s Theme’ from Redcoats’ playlist

Brett Bawcum has been associated with UGA's Redcoat Marching Band since enrolling at the university in 1992. He was named 'acting director' last August. (Photo by Cathy Marszalik/marszalikphotography@gmail.com)

Reaction was strong and divided to Thursday's news that UGA's Redcoat Marching Band will no longer play "Tara's Theme" at the end of Georgia football home games.

The decision to end the tradition was made by acting director Brett Bawcum in deference to racial tensions around the country.

It’s not the first time the Redcoats have found themselves as agents of social change. Longtime director Roger Dancz led a successful movement to drop “Dixie” from the band’s name in 1971.

Bawcum, 46, is what UGA calls a “triple Dawg.” That is, he holds three degrees from Georgia, a bachelor of music in music education, a masters of music in conducting and a doctorate of musical arts in music education. A native of Nashville, Tenn., Bawcum moved to Snellville in 1989 and graduated from Shiloh High School before attending UGA. He played alto saxophone for two years with the Redcoats before becoming a drum major for his final three years with the marching band.

Bawcum has remained with the Redcoats in various capacities since then, though he is relatively new in his current position. He succeeded Mike Robinson, the Redcoat Band’s director for the previous 11 years, in August of last year. He and associate director Rob Akridge have worked together closely to prepare halftime shows and lead the Redcoats over the last year.

It’s unclear if or when Bawcum might become the band’s permanent director, which is a tenure-track position at UGA. The band is overseen by UGA’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music, but receives some of its funding from the Georgia Athletic Association, which also pays for travel and lodging at away games.

It’s clear from the message Bawcum sent out Wednesday night on the Redcoat Band’s social media accounts that he believes there is a lack of diversity within the band. He made personal appeal to “people of color” who are currently members to keep marching for the Bulldogs.

“I can’t imagine that you chose to join an overwhelmingly white band with anything less than reservation, though I understand from our conversations that the sensation was nothing new to you,” Bawcum wrote. “It is very important to me personally that you understand that you not only matter, but that you are irreplaceable. To a person, you are models for this organization in how you approach membership and how you lift your voice to insist on what is rightfully yours. You are admired, appreciated and loved.”

Bawcum was asked by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for some background on his decision to ban “Tara’s Theme” (the main score from the 1939 movie “Gone With the Wind”) from UGA’s postgame routine. His response came via email late Thursday night:

Q. How long have the Redcoats played Tara’s Theme at Georgia football games?

A. My understanding is that the band first played it in 1959, on the occasion of the film's 20th anniversary. (It was) first played at a Washington Redskins game. I don't know if it immediately became a postgame tradition, but I don't think it was much later when it did.

Q. You mentioned in your post that banning the practice has actually been in the works for a while. Could you expound on that?

A. About four years ago, when I was associate director, I was teaching the piece in camp and was startled by the realization that black band members were sitting in front of me playing something that we say we love from "Gone With the Wind." I started asking questions of them that day and have continued to ask occasionally over the past few years, without any obvious conclusion.

I became acting director on Aug. 2, 2019. That November the band gave a performance where 50 members were in the Apollo Theatre in New York City. The rest (of the band) was simulating a game in an empty Sanford Stadium that we livestreamed to NYC. Sometime in October at a planning meeting at the Apollo, I was discussing the “postgame” with producers. “Tara’s Theme” was on that list, and I said we would not play that in the Apollo. That made me ask why we would play it in Sanford.

By the end of last season, I pulled the piece at the last minute from the last game against Texas A&M. The exact moment was when the team came to the sideline to celebrate. Jordan Davis was not with the rest of the crowd; he was standing in front of the band making a heart with his hands.

We have not played it in public since. I had planned to listen to the band’s thoughts about it before deciding, but it became clear that this moment didn’t need my wavering as much as it needed a little decisiveness.

Q. How did you come to be acting director?

A. The previous director took a re-assignment to another department last August, which is when I entered this role. I am not certain about the exact difference in acting, interim, and other similar modifiers.

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