Harding, Albert Austin (1880-1958) | University of Illinois Archives
Albert Austin Harding was asked to direct the University of Illinois Band by the head of the School of Music in the spring of 1905 while he was still a senior in the College of Engineering. Harding accepted and was officially a member of the faculty in the fall of 1905. To Harding, the position was only a temporary arrangement, as his goal at the time was to become a municipal and sanitary engineer. After two years of conducting the band, Harding was officially appointed the first Director of Bands in 1907, a position he held until his retirement in 1948. With this appointment Illinois became the first university to create a distinct band department under a director of bands. Harding eventually went on to earn a full professorship in music, making him the first band director on an American campus to hold this rank.
Professor Harding expanded the traditional roles of bands at military ceremonies and sporting events and added a great emphasis on concert band music and transcriptions of symphonic and chamber pieces. The professionalism and musicianship of the University of Illinois Bands under Harding were legend and became the standard to which other colleges and universities aspired.
Harding enjoyed a very close personal and professional relationship with the legendary bandmaster, John Philip Sousa. In the 1920s Sousa dubbed the University of Illinois Band "the world's greatest college concert band." On March 20, 1930, the band performed a concert with Sousa as its guest conductor. At the concert, Sousa dedicated his "University of Illinois March" to the faculty, students, and alumni. Upon his death in 1932, Sousa left his vast library and treasured mementoes to the University of Illinois as a gesture of his high esteem for Harding and his band. The Sousa collection is now housed in the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music located in the Harding Band Building, named in honor of Albert Austin Harding and dedicated in 1958. In addition to Sousa, the University of Illinois Band had many other guest conductors while under Harding's direction. Among these were Edwin Franko Goldman, Henry Fillmore, Frank Simon, Harold Bachman, Guy Holmes, and Victor Grabel.
Harding was a charter member of the American Bandmasters Association and served as its president in 1937-38. In 1956, he was elected to succeed John Philip Sousa and Edwin Franko Goldman as Honorary Life President. Harding was honorary life president of the College Band Directors National Association. Harding was among the founding members of the Alpha Xi chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Mr. Harding died on December 3, 1958.