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A Brief History Of Drum Corps In Central New York [PHOTOS, VIDEOS]

SU Marching Band @ Super Bowl XLVIII
SU Marching Band | Larry Busacca/Getty Images Entertainment

We’re pretty excited about the upcoming Drums Along The Mohawk competition & show coming to RFA Stadium in Rome on Wednesday, July 30th. It’s an amazing collection of sights and sounds that line the streets around the field for many blocks. Take a walk around before going into the show – you’ll see corps practicing on people’s lawns, and crews making final preparations before heading in to the competition. But the best part is sitting in the bleachers and FEELING the music and energy coming from the field.  If you haven’t seen it yet, make plans to join us Wednesday night.


Here’s a video of The Bluecoats “warming up” on someone’s lawn in Rome before the 2010 show:

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Talking with the organizers about this year’s show, we got to thinking about the rich history of drum corps in Central New York. The committee from Drums Along The Mohawk helped us put together this brief look back in time at some of the regions’s popular groups.

AVANT GARDE was a junior drum corps out of Saratoga County in New York. It was the result of a merger of the Bethesda Emerald Knights and the Speigleaires in 1975. The Corps’ Director was Jeff Perkins. In its first year of competition (1975), the Corps placed 25th at DCI Nationals. Avant Garde’s best placement at DCI’s was in 1984. The Corps’ last appearance at DCI’s was in 1985.


Here’s an amazing video of Avant Garde from the 1983 DCI Semifinals:

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The MAGNIFICENT YANKEES, formed in 1939 and reorganized in 1960, was a junior marching and maneuvering corps based in Utica, New York. They were sponsored by Utica American Legion Post 229. The corps’ colors were red, white, and black. The Magnificent Yankees won titles in the Hudson-Berkshire Circuit, New York-Canadian Circuit, and New York State American Legion Circuit in the mid-1960s. In 1975, the Magnificent Yankees merged with the Syracuse Marauders to form the Yankee Marauders.

The Magnificent Yankees on the steps in front of Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in 1962:

Magnificent Yankees | The Drum Corps Repertoire Database

Here’s a newspaper article (Utica Daily Press – Sept 9, 1963) about The Magnificent Yankees at a competition in Miami Beach:

Utica Daily Press, 1963 - The Magnificent Yankees
Utica Daily Press, 1963/Historical Drum Corps Publications

Richard Elmquist/Drum Corps Collectibles
Richard Elmquist/Drum Corps Collectibles


Richard Elmquist has more really cool pictures of collectibles at his website – Drum Corps Collectibles.



Utica Royaleers – Parade ca 1968 | The Drum Corps Repertoire Database

The Utica Royaleers was another junior corps founded in 1964 and competed for several years.  I couldn’t find much information about them, but did find some great old photos.  You can see more at The Drum Corps Repertoire Database.

The STARLIGHTERS from Frankfort, NY were sponsored by the Baldwin-Branck American Legion  Post 845. The group made rapid strides in it’s inception capturing the hearts of drum corps fans throughout Central New York. The Starlighters and the Magnificent Yankees were rival corps, often competing against each other.


The Starlighters even have a park named after them at the corner of Main and Litchfield Streets in Frankfort.

Here’s a cool recording of The Starlighters from Frankfort, NY from a competition in Auburn in 1964:

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The South Utica Boys Victory Drum Corp was  established in December of 1941. The corps played at every patriotic function parade and bond rally it could get to,and became well known in the community.The corps was changed to South Utica Boys after the war ended.  In 1950 the corps name was again changed to Utica Boys Drum Corps.

The Post 229 Utica Blackhawks was  one of the oldest Legion Drum and Bugle corps in the  State.They competed in the Copper City Pageant of Drums in the 1950’s. They traveled many miles competing in representing the American Legion.  In 1964, the Blackhawks merged with the Prospect Crusaders to form the Utica Executives.


Utica Blackhawks, 1950’s | The Drum Corps Repertoire Database

The Cavaliers Drum Corps sponsored by the V.F.W. Post 2246 in Rome, NY, were mainly a parade corps who traveled throughout the state for parades and standstill completions.  In the early years of drum corps there were many corps in New York States and all along the East coast.

Richard “Mitch” Mitchell

Topix has a bad reputation due to a lot of awful posts lately, but there have been some decent discussions about the local corps. CLICK HERE for the Topix thread about the Magnificent Yankees, Executives, Royaleers and more.


There is also a great thread at about the Magnificent Yankees & The Starlighters – CLICK HERE.


More pictures and details to come. If you were in any of these groups, or know someone who was, we’d love to hear from you. You can send pictures or more information to The Drums Along The Mohawk crew would love to hear from you too. You can contact them through their website.


Details about Drums Along The Mohawk 2014

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