The Happiest Photo Ever Made

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ALFRED EISENSTAEDT / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images

The drum major for the University of Michigan marching band rehearses as admiring children fall in line, 1950.

Take a fresh look at Alfred Eistenstaedt’s famous “Drum Major,” photographed in 1950. As the editor, writer, poet and one-time director of photography for LIFE, David Friend, once said, this picture is Eisenstaedt’s “ode to joy.”

“It was early in the morning,” Eisenstaedt said about the photograph taken on assignment for LIFE, covering the University of Michigan’s nationally famous marching band. He spotted the school’s drum major practicing. Then, Eisenstaedt said, “I saw a little boy running after him, and all the faculty children on the playing field ran after the boy. And I ran after them. This is a completely spontaneous, unstaged picture.”

Generations later, the picture remains one of the great photographer’s most beloved. When  Bill Clinton was offered any Eisenstaedt print as thanks for a sitting he and his wife and daughter granted the then-94-year-old photographer on Martha’s Vineyard  in 1993, the president reportedly chose this one.

By the way, the high spirited, high-stepping band leader is a man named David Smith.

MORE: 20 Timeless, Joyful Photos