FARMINGTON — Georgia Ashley remembers marching with the Navajo Nation Band when she was in sixth-grade. She's 64 now.

"A lot of people go, You're still in the band?'" said Ashley, who remembers marching alongside her father.

Ashley is just one of the more than 70 members of the Navajo Nation Band, which will be featured at the Jan. 21 Inauguration Day parade for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

The inaugural parade will follow the swearing in of Obama and Biden. The parade will go down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

It is not the first appearance that the Navajo Nation Band has made in an inaugural parade. The band also marched in the Jan. 20, 1961 parade for John Kennedy and the Jan. 20, 1973 parade for Richard Nixon.

"We've been all over the country," said Valerie Harrison, the band's administrative coordinator.

The band's roots, however, go much further back.

The band initially began in 1925 when a small group of young Navajo men graduated from a federal government boarding school. They had learned in school how to play typical marching-band instruments, and they decided they wanted to put those skills to use.

They began playing at small functions, mainly local ones, though they slowly started gaining recognition around the Navajo reservation and the Southwest region.

By 1938, they were known as the "Navajo Band." They had about a dozen members, and a handful of instruments, playing classic marching band tunes.


"The marching music was really popular at the time," said Darwyn Jackson, the band's current director.

During World War II, more than a dozen Navajo musicians kept the band going. Post-war, they acted as entertainment ambassadors for the tribe.

They began gaining popularity in the following years, eventually playing for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1965 at the New York World's Fair. The band later was invited to Russia.

Composers even started writing songs for the band -- songs that set the band apart by incorporating subtle cultural references.

"In 1975, we played the Beauty Way Song,' a folk song that was sang during the Long Walk," Jackson said. The Long Walk refers to the more than 300-mile journey the Navajo were forced to walk between 1864 and 1866 after the United States government ordered the tribe off its land.

They played the song at the 1975 Rose Bowl, an event that Ashley remembers fondly.

"This young man, he forgot his black shoes. That's a no-no," Ashley recalled. "So one of the guys put a few layers of black socks over the guy's shoes. By the end, the socks were torn everywhere. We all were just laughing."

The memories pile on and on.

In recent years, the band has only become more successful, and is expected to grow to about 100 over the next year. The members range in age from 13 to their 80s, and they come from all over the reservation. Some members even live off-reservation and travel from as far as Albuquerque, Phoenix and Denver to practice in Window Rock, Ariz., the Navajo Nation's capital.

The band currently is taking applications from anyone interested in joining.

"Learn an instrument, play an instrument, and one of these days you'll play with us," said Ashley.