Photo collage of a woman dressed in a USC Trojan drum major costume holding a sword.

USC Trailblazer: India Anderson

By Tyler Francischine

Photo of a marching band drum major dressed like a Trojan warrior in gold armor.
Photo credit: University of Southern California – Facebook/USC News

Becoming the first female drum major of the USC Trojan Marching Band set India Anderson on a path toward self-actualization and feminism. As part of USC’s yearlong celebration of Title IX, we are sharing the stories of USC Thornton trailblazers who have made our community, and the world, a more equitable place.

Anderson performs the sword maneuver at center field, the penultimate moment before kick-off at every USC football home game in L.A. Memorial Coliseum. (Credit: University of Southern California Football – @uscfb)

When India Anderson first performed the USC Trojan Marching Band drum major routine on August 31, 2019, she proved that the kind of ferocity, strength and courage that Trojan fans associate with their mascot were qualities possessed by women, too. Thousands of eyes followed Anderson as she marched across the 50-yard line of the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in a cardinal cape, gold breastplate and leather sandals, a gametime ritual of 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. 

“I did my routine, and the stadium went kind of quiet. Then, I stabbed the field, and there was this huge eruption of sound,” says 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 USC Trojan Marching Band was a fitting accomplishment for the physically active, leadership-minded college junior who regularly weight lifted 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 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. 

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

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 USC 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 says. “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.”

Photo of a drum major performing on a football field in gold Trojan armor.
India Anderson plants the USC Trojan Marching Band sword at center field. (Photo credit: University of Southern California Football/USC News)

For a few months prior to her winning the drum major position and throughout her tenure in the role, Anderson experienced intense mental duress and anxiety, conditions that ultimately led her to take a step back from her involvement in the marching band after she finished the fall 2019 season.

“My anxiety got so terrible that year of marching band that I almost didn’t survive. There was so much pressure from being drum major that wasn’t necessarily causing my anxiety, but it was making it worse. I had frequent thoughts of suicide, and I had panic attacks every day for a week that felt like I was dying,” she says. “I rarely mention that because it’s so easy for someone to think, ‘Oh, she couldn’t handle it.’ I remember thinking that I failed myself and that everyone would think, ‘She couldn’t do it because she’s a woman.’”

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.

Photo of a brass band holding their instruments outdoors by a pier in the afternoon sun.
Sousaphonist India Anderson (third from the left) with her band Blow. (Photo courtesy of official website

“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 says. “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.”

Today, as the bandleader and arranger for Blow, a brass band that has played throughout Southern California, Anderson utilizes both her chops in performance and directorship to make a name for herself as a professional musician. Her talent and contributions were recognized this spring 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 recalls. “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 says. “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.”

Discover USC’s history of
Title IX Trailblazers

TAGS: Alumni, Classical Division, Winds and Percussion,

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