The Marching Royal Dukes are James Madison University's official marching band. Formed in 1972 (the same year as the football team), the "MRD's" perform at pre-game, halftime and post-game at all home football games, and travel with the team occasionally to perform at away and post-season games. In 1994, the MRD's were the recipients of the Sudler Trophy, the highest honor available for a college marching band, and was the first ensemble from a school with a I-AA football team to do so.
The MRD's are the largest collegiate marching band in the nation, with 485 members (Fall 2013). Nicknamed "Virginia's Finest", they have performed at venues such as the inaugurations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the NFC title game between Washington and Dallas in 1983, Bands of America Grand National Championships in 1988 and 1991. The band has made three appearances in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, first in 2001, again in 2008, and most recently in 2013. In the past decade, the band has taken trips to Europe during the school's winter break, featuring Athens, Dublin, and Monoco. In the most recent trip to Europe, the MRD's participated in the 2011 London New Year's Day Parade.
The typical MRD show consists of three pieces, spreading across different genres, from jazz and funk to musicals and movie themes, and the second piece always features the Dukettes, the university's dance team.
Marching band is offered as a two-credit applied music class at JMU, whereas most other universities it is solely an extracurricular activity. MRD tryouts are open to all students.
In addition to performances at football games, the Marching Royal Dukes record a new CD every year with selected songs from their show music, as well as stands tunes performed at football games. Every fall break the MRD's host Parade of Champions, a high school marching band competition, inviting bands from across the state and beyond to perform and receive scores.
During the basketball season, the JMU Pep Band, directed by Chad Reep, performs at all home games, both men's and women's. If either team plays in a postseason tournament, the band travels with them as well. With the men's basketball team winning the 2013 CAA tournament, the Pep Band also traveled with the team to the 2013 NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio playing for two tournament games. The Pep Band is open to all members of the marching band, and has twice been named “Best Pep Band in the East” by Eastern Basketball Magazine. In recent seasons the Pep Band debuted an arrangement of Start Wearing Purple, a song by the gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello, at basketball games and both the 2013 CAA and NCAA Tournaments. The song has since taken off around campus to the extent that it is now on JMU Athletics billboards, theme music for videos, and starting in the 2013 Football Season, the Marching Royal Dukes will present it as a part of their pre-game show.