Bye Bye, Bertha!


Friday, October 14, 2022

Iconic drum retires from Longhorn Band

Longhorn Band members pull the "Big Bertha" drum after the Texas-Rice football game, which will be retired from service this fall
Longhorn Band members pull the "Big Bertha" drum after the Texas-Rice football game, which will be retired from service this fall. Photo by Ralph Arvesen

After almost 70 years of service to the Longhorn Band, fan favorite Big Bertha is retiring at the ripe old age of 100. The 8-foot drum will make its final appearance at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Oct. 15 during the halftime show of the Iowa State game, featuring the Longhorn Alumni Band. The band’s new giant drum also will debut at the game.

Longhorn Band alumnus J.P. Kirksey was a percussionist in the band during the 1960s and has been caring for Big Bertha since the early 1980s, handling repairs and other issues.

He explains that former Longhorn Band Director Moton Crockett brought the drum to UT in 1955 after rescuing it from a Conn Music Company warehouse in Elkhart, Indiana, where it had languished for more than a decade since original owner The University of Chicago discontinued its football program and marching band.

It was already nicknamed “Big Bertha” because the sound it made was like the blast of German cannons in World War I, which were called “Big Berthas,” Kirksey said.

Unlike modern drums whose heads are made of fiberglass, like all drums of her time, Bertha’s drumheads were made of leather. “So Big Bertha is 8 feet in diameter, and that’s just because those were the two biggest steers that Conn Music could find at the Chicago Stockyards,” he said. Conn had built the drum in 1922.

Kirksey explains that after acquiring the drum, Crockett spent the spring and summer of 1955 redoing, refurbishing, rebuilding, re-outfitting the drum and presented her to the new band director, Vincent DiNino, in the summer of 1955.

During more than six decades at UT, Bertha appeared at dozens of football games and other events. She has travelled to the Rose Bowl, and in 2015 was shipped overseas where she and the Longhorn Alumni Band led the London New Year’s Day Parade. Bertha has appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and was the subject of an episode of the A&E show “Shipping Wars.”

After her retirement, Big Bertha will go on display in the university’s Athletics Hall of Fame. Open to the public, the Hall of Fame is in the north end zone of the stadium and features scores of sports trophies and other memorabilia.

— RJ