USC Song Girls marching through campus

India Anderson marches with Arthur C. Bartner, longtime band director. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

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USC trailblazer pushed past criticism as Trojan Marching Band’s first female drum major

TITLE IX: Since donning the cardinal cape and gold breastplate, USC Thornton alumna India Anderson has performed with Beyoncé at the 2022 Oscars and now leads the brass band Blow.

March 07, 2023 Tyler Francischine

Editor’s note: Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was signed into law on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the academic year. 

When India Anderson first performed the USC Trojan Marching Band drum major routine on Aug. 31, 2019, she demonstrated that the kind of ferocity, strength and courage that Trojan fans associate with their mascot are also qualities possessed by women. Thousands of eyes followed Anderson as she marched across the 50-yard line of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in a cardinal cape, gold breastplate and leather sandals, a gametime ritual for any USC drum major. She then stabbed the field with her sword and raised her hands in triumph while letting out a battle cry, resulting in a roar of applause and cheers.

Title IX logo“I did my routine, and the stadium went kind of quiet. Then, I stabbed the field, and there was this huge eruption of sound,” said the 2021 graduate of the USC Thornton School of Music. “To complete the routine and stab the field — that was the moment everyone was waiting for.”

Becoming the first female drum major of the Trojan Marching Band was a fitting accomplishment for the physically active, leadership-minded college junior who regularly lifted weights and quickly rose through the Spirit of Troy’s ranks to become part of the tuba section’s leadership. Yet the experience wasn’t all positive.

On Twitter, a video posted by USC Athletics showed Anderson performing her routine for the first time and received some praise. But there were many other comments calling her “weak” and debating if she completed the routine correctly or if she was, in fact, about to stab herself in the foot with the sword.

India Anderson first female drum major
India Anderson and bandmates celebrate after she was named drum major in 2019. (Photo/Courtesy of the USC Trojan Marching Band)

“It felt like I was under a heat lamp 24/7, no matter what I did,” Anderson said.

Regardless of the amount of preparation she poured into her role or the expertise with which she executed it, Anderson faced immense pressure, scrutiny and sexism as the Trojan Marching Band’s first female drum major. It came from football fans who called her Tammy Trojan and from alumni who said the drum major should only be a burly, strong man. It even came from some within the marching band.

“I had a band member ask me, ‘Are you going to wear a miniskirt like Wonder Woman?’” she said. “Looking back, it makes me sick. I worked so hard. I was a pretty intimidating presence on the field. I’m 5’11” and at the time, I was around 180 pounds. I was jacked. I was lifting weights for two years beforehand, and I practiced that routine every day for half of a year. And no matter all the work I put in, it seemed all some people were going to see was my gender.

I got really depressed about it for a while, thinking I could work as hard as I physically could, but I still wouldn’t be enough for some people.

India Anderson,
USC’s first female drum major

“I got really depressed about it for a while, thinking I could work as hard as I physically could, but I still wouldn’t be enough for some people.”

Upon reflection, Anderson sees these extremely challenging weeks in her past as the catalyst that set her on a lifelong path toward achieving equity and inclusivity for women in the music industry. These memories continue to fuel her as she navigates a career as a freelance musician in L.A.’s pop and jazz scenes, especially as a female tubist in the male-dominated low brass section.

“Being drum major made me acknowledge and be proud of being a woman. I always tried to fit into these male-dominated spaces by being as much of a guy as I could, but I realized I don’t have to do that,” she said. “Having more visibility is really important. Having me in that position shows younger women that it’s not impossible — a woman did this, and she was strong.”

Title IX trailblazer performance with Beyoncé at the 2022 Oscars

Today, as the bandleader and arranger for Blow, a brass band that has played throughout Southern California, Anderson utilizes her chops in both performance and directorship to make a name for herself as a professional musician. Her talent and contributions were recognized when she was asked to perform with Beyoncé at the 2022 Oscars, an experience that proved to her once and for all the power of female leadership.

“Beyoncé specifically requested a mostly female orchestra. That was the first time I played in an ensemble where the concertmaster and the principal trumpet player were women,” Anderson recalled. “Beyoncé had this huge air of authority wherever she went. She was like, ‘I’m a woman, I’m getting this done.’ There was no question about it. That gave me hope.

“Whenever a guy comes up to me after a show and says, ‘How does a female play the tuba? How do you carry that thing?’ I think, ‘It’s all worth it if I can have the majority of my experiences be like that Oscar performance.’ That’s the goal.”

Though Anderson has only recently embarked upon her life’s journey as a professional female musician navigating mostly male-dominated arenas, her example already demonstrates what it takes to break gender barriers and challenge established norms — and why those aims can never be abandoned.

“All of the negative experiences are important, and it’s important to be honest. If you’re honest, you can actually inspire someone. Only now am I able to reflect and be honest about this groundbreaking experience that almost killed me. In the end, I made it through. That’s what’s important,” Anderson said.

“If it takes a bunch of strong women to go through a lot of stuff to make it easier for the next person, so it goes.”