The First Female Drummer in the Longhorn Band, in Her Own Words

By Leah Mabry, BS ’63, Life Member, as told to Rose Cahalan

When I graduated from high school in a little bitty Texas town in 1956, they told me I could be a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary. Well, none of those suited me. Then I met Mr. D: Band Director Vince DiNino. He was recruiting for the Longhorn Band, and because I’d been in my band all through high school, he offered me a full tuition scholarship—$25.  So that meant I was going to UT.

I was the first female drummer in the band. There were about 10 of us who joined that fall, but I was the first to march. There weren’t enough drummers to fill the ranks, and Mr. D just wanted good musicians; he didn’t care about gender. We had to lobby the administration to get them to give us women physical education credit for being in band. It wasn’t easy, but eventually we got that credit.

I participated in freshman initiation for the band right alongside the men. We had to march down Congress Avenue playing our instruments, wearing burlap sacks with holes cut out for our heads and arms. Then when we took the train to Waco for the Baylor game, I had to push a penny all the way down the aisle of the train with my nose.

We flew to Washington, D.C. to march in JFK’s inaugural parade. I had my organic chemistry final exam that day and the professor wouldn’t let me reschedule. So I took that exam in the airplane bathroom. That’s not something you forget.

I was cheering on the sidelines at the Oklahoma game when I saw a flash. The next day my photo was in the Dallas Morning News—made me a celebrity. Then it was on The Alcalde.

It was a different world back then. Have you heard of the panty raids? Oh my word! The men used to come cheer outside the women’s dorms and the women would throw their panties down. The RA said to make sure our names weren’t in them or we’d get in trouble. We had to wear skirts and dresses at all times on campus—no pants.

The band was a family. It was a big commitment and a big sacrifice, and you had to put your nose to the grindstone and work harder than you thought you could. I guess that planted a seed I’ve carried for the rest of my life.

My first job was at the Texas Exes, looking up addresses in the basement of the journalism school. I signed up as a Life Member the minute I graduated, and I’ve had the same seats for every football game since 1968.

When I started at UT, I had no idea what I wanted to be. Mr. D. had a friend in the pharmacy school—the associate dean at the time. Mr. D said ‘Leah Raye, why don’t you go over to the pharmacy school and talk to him.’

So I did, and I decided to become a pharmacist. Later I went to medical school and became a family physician. Now I teach and do legislative work, and I ride horses competitively. I don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon.

Photos courtesy Kate Alfano.


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