While announcing increased financial support for and participation options within its band programs, the University of Texas made it clear Wednesday that "The Eyes of Texas" will be part of the Longhorn Band's repertoire and that 2021 band members will be required to play it.
As reported by Sports Illustrated, the debate surrounding school's alma mater song began in June 2020, when a group of athletes called on the university to it. "The Eyes of Texas'" was used in minstrel shows featuring characters in blackface dating back to the early 1900s, and the song additionally alludes to a phrase from Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
According to a Butler School of Music release announcing the future plans for the UT bands, the university will financially support "outreach efforts and social change opportunities across all university bands" and "expansion of the musical diversity of the bands, including musical repertoire, faculty, and band leadership." However, "Longhorn Band and Longhorn Pep Band will have a required repertoire that includes traditional university selections such as the university alma mater and fight song."
That said, the school is creating new band options outside the scope of existing offerings. "Recognizing that the new University Band option will begin fall 2022, we will maintain the same merit scholarship support for rising seniors who opt out of performing in Longhorn Band," the release states.
Several Texas football players opted to not participate in postgame renditions of "The Eyes of Texas" last fall, as did a significant portion of the Longhorn Band. The Longhorn Band didn't play the song at all during a game against Baylor in October due to a lack of available instrumentation, SI reported.
The call for change was met with pushback from alumni, including former quarterback Colt McCoy. Several threatened to rescind donations or discontinue attending events if playing "The Eyes of Texas" was removed from the game-day experience, according to emails uncovered by The Texas Tribune.
Former Texas football coach Tom Herman gave players the option of not participating in the singing of the song, but new coach Steve Sarkisian announced upon his hiring, "I know this much, 'The Eyes of Texas' is our school song. We're going to sing that song. We're going to sing that proudly."