In 1947 a marching band that would come to inspire a community and the National Football League, was formed. The president of the band John Ziemann, had a vision for the band, but through their journey they were forced to endure some heart breaking and unexpected events. The story of the Baltimore Marching Ravens is a story which may have concluded with some very different results if it weren’t for the persistence of the group
Founded as the Baltimore Colts’ Marching Band, they entertained the original Baltimore Colts for a period of three years (1947-1950). After the franchise disbanded for three years the bank continued to support the new Baltimore Colts in 1953.
In the middle of the night in 1984, the Colts packed up their offices into several moving vans and quietly left town and ended up in Indianapolis. At that time, the band’s uniforms were getting dry cleaned and Ziemann contacted the owner of the business. The owner of the dry cleaners told Ziemann that legally he could not release the uniforms, but that later that evening, he should come over and take the company van “for a walk.”
The walk was very significant in the history of the band, because Ziemann and his associates made a gutsy decision to hide the uniforms in a local cemetery until the Colt’s decided that it was okay for them to keep them.
The midnight move left Baltimore without a professional football team for eleven years. All through those years the band decided to continue to stay together and play in events and parades for the community, along with any other activities they could participate in to keep their dream alive. At that time the marching band was filled with individuals who were just playing for the love of it. Ziemann and his wife were so dedicated to keeping the band going; he pawned his wife’s wedding ring to purchase new equipment for the band.
The band was getting a lot of exposure in the Community. Cleveland Browns owner at the time, Art Modell invited the marching band to entertain at a Browns’ half time show. “They were cheap,” Modell said
In the 1990’s Baltimore was in the running for a NFL franchise. The band gathered on the steps of the Maryland State House while the legislature was in session, in an effort to convince the Maryland General Assembly and the state legislature, to approve funding for a new football stadium. The band played, causing a crowd to gather and sing along. Those who gathered included then-Governor William Donald Schaefer, who was strongly in favor of both a new team and stadium for Baltimore. Eventually, the legislature approved the funding.
In 1996 when the Browns moved to Baltimore, John Ziemann stood up on the set of a local talk show and publicly asked a simple question of show guest, Art Modell. Could the band become the Ravens’ official band, to which Modell smiled and said “I thought you already were.”
For the Ravens’ first two seasons, the band retained its name as The Baltimore Colts Marching Band. At the start of the 1998 season, it assumed its current name, The Marching Ravens. The band also had a new fight song for the Ravens, which was very different from the old Colts fight song. However, in 2010, the band was considering using the old Colts fight song with new lyrics for the Ravens. Fans voted online and after over 10,000 votes were cast 79% were in favor of using the Colts fight song with new lyrics.
There are only two NFL bands (Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills), other than the Baltimore Marching Ravens Band, but the Ravens Marching band is the most active outside of their organization.
The band’s real life Cinderella story was so inspiring that ESPN’s 30 for 30 filmed a documentary directed by Baltimore native Barry Levinson, titled The Band that Would Never Die. The film is available on Netflix and well worth the time to watch.
In a recent interview with Fago Franklin III from Pro Player Insiders, John Ziemann gave his view on the marching band’s success.
PPI: What made you decide to hide the uniforms in the graveyard? That was a pretty risky move.
J.Z: Well when the Baltimore Colts had just literally got up and left, we didn’t have the uniforms. The uniforms were still in the dryers away from us. I had called the owner of the company and he told me that it was no way that we could get the uniforms. So someone I had knew had a plan until we had gotten things straighten out. I didn’t know at the time that we were going to hide the uniforms in a cemetery.
PPI: Are you still angry at how the Colts left?
J.Z: I am not that mad anymore. It took me awhile to let it go. How would you feel if your team was taken away in the middle of the night? I had felt that it was not right for them to do that.
PPI: Do you regret any of the decisions that you made?
J.Z: Not at all, I love just making people smile with the marching band. I love how Art Modell has helped us. I am very grateful for him. He has helped us with everything we need.
PPI: After the NFL season is over, what does the band do?
J.Z: Well we do some events, just keep in touch with the community, and keep the community excited.
J.Z: You would have to have a tryout, than we can see where you would fit in with the band. We are always looking for more people to get involved with the band.
PPI: What advice would you give to someone pursuing their dream?
J.Z: I would tell them keep trying. You will have a lot of ups and downs trying to get somewhere in life, but just keep focused. If it’s your passion, stop at nothing to achieve it.
PPI: There are only two other bands in the NFL, would you like to see more?
J.Z: Heck yeah I would like to see more bands in the NFL, I personally feel like it’s better if you have live entertainment.
PPI: How long is the practice and what type of music do they play?
J.Z: The practices could is 2 hours long, where the band members have to get certain numbers and music right. The type of music they are playing now are more modern types.
PPI: What is the best thing the band does for the community?
J.Z: The band gives the community pumped up about our Ravens and gives a positive outlook to our members. It is pretty cool to march and put smiles on each of the fans. I just love it!
Kim Snyder Contributed to this story
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