‘Agawam’s Music Man’ Darcy Davis was two-time winner of VFW solo soprano title

Posted on May 24th, 2021 by Gail Langan

World Drum Corps Hall of Fame (WDCHoF) member Darcy B. Davis Jr., a two-time winner of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) national individual bugle solo soprano performance championship passed away early in 2020 at the age of 93.  Notice of his passing was not widely circulated at the time.

He was inducted into the WDCHoF in 1987.  He was also a member of the Buglers Hall of Fame, inducted in 2012.  A short video presented at his BHoF induction is available at BHOF 2012 Inductee – Darcy Davis

He passed away peacefully on January 29, 2020 surrounded by members of his family.  Those wishing to honor his memory can make donations to the Agawam, Massachusetts, High School Marching Band or the First Baptist Church of Agawam.

While teaching music at Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts from 1949 to 1951, he became the school’s first full time band director and also played soprano horn with Lieutenant Norman Prince drum and bugle corps.  He won the VFW national individual soprano title at the 1950 convention in Chicago.  He won the individual title again in 1953 in Miami as the Princemen again also won the VFW title. 

His involvement in drum corps activity began in 1939, as a member of Troop 31 Boy Scout Drum Corps.  By 1940, he was the drill, drum and bugle instructor for the VFW junior drum and bugle corps in North Adams, Massachusetts, the town where he was born October 18, 1926.  North Adams, located in the northwest corner of the Berkshires is the smallest city in Massachusetts, offering a bustling cultural life including contemporary art and indie music activities.

He served as a judge with the All American and Northeast associations as well as Drum Corps Associates (DCA) and Drum Corps International (DCI).  He also judged in World Open, US Open, VFW Nationals, Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and International Open contests. He coordinated the WDCHoF induction banquets for several years in the early 2000s.  He also worked closely with WDCHoF founder Vince Bruni to assemble stories and memories told by Hall of Fame members on audio-tape to help preserve the history of the activity.

After graduating from high school in North Adams he served in the United States Army Air Corps before graduating from Williams College.  He then entered post-graduate studies at Boston University College of Music, with further studies at Harvard, Columbia and Hartt College of Music.  He began teaching in Agawam in 1955, serving as band director and supervisor of music for Agawam Public Schools.

During his career he produced more than 20 Broadway musicals on the high school stage while the Agawam High School Band won many local and national awards.  His band was selected to represent Massachusetts at the world premiere of the hit show The Music Man in Mason City, Iowa.  

After retiring he remained active in music, performing with Marksmen Alumni Drum and Bugle Corps, the Memories Big Band in Somers, and the Agawam Senior Center Melody Band.  He organized and served as director of the Agawam Senior Center Chorus. He was parade marshal for the daily afternoon parades during the Eastern States Exposition.

He was fondly known throughout the community as Agawam’s Music Man.  His legacy is extended by the music performances at the Darcy B. Davis Jr. Band Shell in School Street Park in Agawam. 

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Widely admired performer, arranger and innovator Ken Norman

Posted on May 12th, 2021 by Gail Langan

Widely admired performer, arranger and innovator Ken Norman, inducted into the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame in 2006, passed away peacefully in hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Sunday May 9 shortly after suffering a massive stroke.  Because of continued pandemic restrictions a celebration of life is delayed until an appropriate time.

Born in Racine, Wisconsin in 1943, he began arranging music for the Racine Kilties brass section in the 1960s, while he was playing French horn with the corps.  He was Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) French horn champion in 1963 and 1964.  In later years, he played mellophone with Kenosha Kingsmen and the Kilties senior corps.  The junior Kilties, founded in 1934, won three VFW national championships during his time in the 1960s: 1964, 1968 and 1969.

Frustrated with the limitations in range and flexibility of traditional military style bugles, he headed the effort to develop the G – F horn, which allowed more notation options and gave the instrument a more legitimate aspect in wider music circles.  The new instrument was a bugle keyed in G with the valve tuned in F and a rotary valve tuned in B flat, mimicking the first and second valve of a trumpet.

That innovation is now considered to be the most important development in drum and bugle corps brass instrumentation.  He helped develop the proposal that convinced the VFW to accept the new style bugles in competition, then was involved in manufacturing a set of instruments for the 1968 Kilties to showcase the new technology and expanded arrangement possibilities.  He was instrumental in the first use of the mellophone as a solo and ensemble instrument in brass voicing.  

His influence helped the drum and bugle corps community move away from the tight rules and restrictions of the national veterans organizations, toward a new era of musical excellence and recognition as an art form.  He helped develop a new judging caption first used in 1971: a music analysis sheet that was not based on the “tick” system: a concept that forms the basis for current judging systems.  

He made a major impact on drum corps activity as an arranger, creating charts for more than 100 drum and bugle corps around the word.  His classic arrangement of Auld Lang Syne is performed throughout the drum corps community.

He was inducted into the Buglers Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Drum Corps International (DCI) Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Funeral mass service April 7 for Frank Gerris whose drum corps activity began at age seven in 1947

Posted on April 5th, 2021 by Gail Langan

World Drum Corps Hall of Fame (WDCHoF) member Frank Gerris, age 79, passed away April 2 in Hawthorne, New Jersey.  He was inducted in the WDCHoF in 1992 and the New Jersey Drum Corps Hall of Fame in 2000.  His involvement in drum corps activity began at age 7 playing soprano horn with Our Lady of Good Counsel, joining Woodsiders in 1956.

Because of pandemic restrictions, visiting hours were private.  The funeral mass was scheduled for 9:30 am Wednesday, April 7 at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, 276 Diamond Bridge Avenue in Hawthorne with entombment following at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Totowa.  Cards of sympathy can be sent to 44 Hawthorne Avenue, Hawthorne, NJ 07506.  Memorial donations can be made to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, Hawthorne Caballeros PO Box 2148, Wayne, NJ 07474-2148.  Make cheques payable to Hawthorne Caballeros or Cabs Alumni, c/o Steve Raclowski, 49 Sand Hill Road, Vernon, NJ 07462.

Frank Gerris enjoyed a long association with Hawthorne Caballeros starting in 1979 as drill designer and instructor, staff coordinator from 1984 until 2001, then general manager.  He recently served as a member of the board of directors.  During his years of service, the Caballeros won five Drum Corps Associates (DCA) championships up to the year of his induction into the WDCHoF.  He was a member of the committee that was instrumental in getting the Hawthorne Caballeros inducted into the Library Hall of Congress.

Drum Corps International (DCI) accepted his proposal that field judges use tape recorders while evaluating corps on the contest field.  His proposal to allow competing corps to start their routine at any position on the field was accepted by DCA.  He served as chair of the DCA marching and maneuvring rules congress and helped re-write the DCA rulebook.

He judged many contests for marching bands, drum and bugle corps and color guards, including DCA and DCI contests.  

In addition to his long association with the Caballeros, he served with other notable drum and bugle corps.  He was drill designer and instructor for the Woodsiders and Hawthorne Muchachos.  He was drum major of Ballantine Brewers drum and bugle corps of Newark, NJ.  He was both brass instructor and director of St. Michael’s of Jersey City, NJ.

He is survived by Bonita “Bonnie” (nee Costello) Gerris, sons Frank Gerris of East Windsor and Charles Gerris of Brick.  His third son Michael Gerris passed away in 2006.  He is also survived by his brother-in-law James Costello, sister-in-law Sheila Costello, and his nieces Shealyn and Mackenzie Costello. He is also survived by his former wife Dianna (nee Hrunka).

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Philadelphia newspaper feature story gives inquiring minds loads of information about Bill Ives drum corps museum project

Posted on March 28th, 2021 by Gail Langan

A feature story in the Sunday March 28 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper gives readers tons of information about World Drum Corps Hall of Fame member Bill Ives and his ongoing campaign to collect items for a proposed Marching Pageantry Arts Museum.

The extensive story and photos were also featured in The Upside section of the Inquirer’s online site on March 23, available at https://www.inquirer.com/life/upper-darby-drum-corps-proposed-museum-20210323.html

Since 1990, he has collected more than 24,000 items, which are stored and available for viewing by appointment only at the Archer-Epler VFW Post 979 in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. He has been a key figure in the movement to preserve the history of drum and bugle corps activity, amassing a staggering 24,000 items: memorabilia, souvenirs, programs, newspaper and magazine articles, corps buttons and badges and more than 350 vintage uniforms.  

For the past 20 years he has displayed many of these items regularly at drum corps events in the United States and Canada. He has also created a detailed computerized listing of drum corps in the USA and Canada.

He was inducted into the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame as an associate member in 2018. He is also a member of the Pennsylvania Drum Corps Hall of Fame.

He has served in various committee and management positions with groups including Jersey Surf and Archer-Epler Musketeers. He was named Musketeer of the year in 1982; received the Spirit of the Musketeer award in 1996 and was named Drum Corps International (DCI) volunteer of the year in 2011.

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Jazz pianist Chick Corea was inducted into World Drum Corps Hall of Fame in recognition of his many distinguished achievements

Posted on February 13th, 2021 by Gail Langan

World famous jazz pianist Chick Corea, inducted into the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame in 2018 for distinguished professional achievement, died February 9 at age 79 from a rare form of recently discovered cancer.  He had been inducted into the International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers Hall of Fame a year earlier.  He was named a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.  

He is also a DownBeat magazine Hall of Fame member.

In his youth, he played lead soprano on a single-valve bugle as a member of the St. Rose Scarlet Lancers of Chelsea, Massachusetts.  He credited his early drum corps experiences with providing the impetus for his highly successful career.

He is the winner of 23 Grammy awards.  With 63 nominations, he is the fourth most nominated artist in the history of the Grammys.  He has also won three Latin Grammy Awards, the most of any artist in the Best Instrumental Album category.  For this year’s March 14 Grammy awards show, he is nominated posthumously for best improvised jazz solo for All Blues and best jazz instrumental album for Trilogy 2.

His compositions, including Spain, My Spanish Heart, La Fiesta and dozens more have been covered by more than 50 competing drum and bugle corps since the early 1970s.  

He left a message to his many fans on his Facebook page: “I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright. It is my hope that those who have an inkling to play, write, perform or otherwise, do so.  If not for yourself then for the rest of us. It’s not only that the world needs more artists, it’s also just a lot of fun.”

His father, a jazz trumpeter and Dixieland bandleader in Boston in the 1930s and 1940s, introduced him to the piano at age four.  At eight he took up drums, which later influenced his use of the piano as a percussion instrument.  His first major professional gig was with Cab Calloway, followed by early performances in Latin bands led by Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo.  In 1968, he joined Miles Davis’ band, appearing on several groundbreaking recordings pointing the way to a new direction in jazz.  He was part of the electrified Davis ensemble that appeared in front of 600,000 people at the Isle of Wight Festival in England in 1970.  In the early 1970s, he took a sharp turn from avant-garde to a crossover jazz/fusion style with the album Return to Forever, incorporating Latin jazz.  His band of the same name relied on both acoustic and electronic instrumentation and drew upon Latin American styles more than rock music.

He is survived by his wife, Gayle Moran, and son Thaddeus.  He became a member of the Church of Scientology in 1968.  He had lived in Clearwater, Florida since 2001.

Chick Corea Induction Tribute Video and Acceptance Message

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Scholarship donations will honor memory of Don Friesing

Posted on January 23rd, 2021 by Gail Langan

Those wishing to honor the memory of World Drum Corps Hall of Fame member Don Friesing, who passed away recently, may make a donation to the Hall of Fame’s scholarship fund in his name.  Donations can be sent to World Drum Corps Hall of Fame, PO Box 357, Pine Brook, NJ 07058.

Don Friesing, inducted in 2001, was one of the pioneers of the modern drum corps movement.  He played drums with the Joseph B. Garity American Legion Post 562 in Ridgewood, New York, from 1939 to 1942.  By 1943 he was teaching others to drum, and over the following 50 years produced many of the most accomplished percussion players in the drum corps community. 

He marched with the Phoebe Hearst Post drum and bugle corps before serving in the United States Navy in 1945 and 1946.  He then spent the following eight years marching with New York Skyliners.

Over the following years, he arranged for and instructed many top-rated junior and senior corps in the Greater New York City region including Our Lady of Loretto and St Joseph’s Patron Cadets in Brooklyn, Connecticut Hurricanes, Ballantine Brewers of Newark, Rae Post, Babylon Islanders, Washington Carver, St. Rocco’s of Newark, St. Ignatius All Girls of Hicksville, Kingston Criterions. 

During those years, he worked with several horn instructors who also became World Drum Corps Hall of Fame members, including Jim Donnelly, Bill Hayes, Hy Dreitzer and Joe Genero.

He was one of the founding members of Drum Corps Associates (DCA), representing Connecticut Hurricanes at the organizational meeting at Archer Epler Post in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania in November 1963.

He was a percussion judge with several associations, including Northeastern Circuit, Long Island Circuit, Greater New York Circuit, Eastern States and DCA.

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Hall of Fame’s Frank Ferraro passes, leaving a remarkable record of success

Posted on December 22nd, 2020 by Gail Langan

World Drum Corps Hall of Fame member Frank Ferraro, who produced a steady stream of state and national championships with the Buccaneers of Reading, Pennsylvania, passed away Sunday December 20 at age 88.  He had recently been hospitalized before moving to hospice care at ManorCare Health Services in Laureldale, Pennsylvania.

A mass of Christian burial arranged by Edward J. Kuhn Funeral Home will be celebrated privately.  Donations in lieu of flowers may be directed to the Reading Musical Foundation (RMF), 201 Washington Street, Reading, PA 19601.  Established more than 80 years ago, RMF is a public charity providing financial support for music presenters in Berks County, music scholarships by audition and in response to financial need and extensive music outreach, including programs in most Berks County’s schools.  Donations may also be made through the RMF website at readingmusicalfoundation.org  

During a13 year period beginning in the late 1950s the Buccaneers ran up a remarkable record of success at state and national levels.  While he served as director of music, arranger and drum major, the corps won two Drum Corps Associates (DCA) world championships, three Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) national championships, eight American Legion (AL) state championships and eight VFW state titles.  Before leading the Buccaneers, he established a similar winning record during eight years as arranger and director of West Reading Corps, winner of seven AL state championships and four VFW state championships during that time.

As a member of the West Reading Police Cadets drum and bugle corps in 1951, he won the VFW national soprano individual championship at the New York City convention.

He served as music director or arranger with such other corps as West Reading, Schuylkill Haven, York White Roses, Milton Keystoners and the Westshoremen.

He was inducted into the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame in 1991.  He is also a member of the Reading Buccaneer Hall of Fame and the Cavalcade of Bands Hall of Fame.  He was an original key member and creator of the Cavalcade, a non-profit organization including more than 100 member schools competing at the interscholastic level. The group’s motto is “Education Through Musical Involvement”.

He was a judge with the Mid Atlantic, All American, DCA and CBA judges associations, adjudicating for such major events as the Festival of States, Cherry Festival, Miss America parade and more.

A 1950 graduate of Reading High School, he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Music from West Chester University and a Master of Arts Degree in Music from Columbia University, then worked as a music educator in Pennsylvania public schools for 40 years.  He was Supervisor of Music in the Wilson School District for twenty-nine years before retiring in 1993.  Under his direction, the Boyertown Area Junior High School Band won the AAA National Band Championships in Washington D.C.

He is survived by his wife Linda, daughter Veronica Mascaro and son Frank J. Ferraro Jr, two brothers and three grandchildren.

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Hall of Fame Scholarship winner also volunteers with Special Olympics

Posted on December 8th, 2020 by Gail Langan

Anna Gentile, of Fallston, Maryland is the winner of this year’s $500 World Drum Corps Hall of Fame scholarship, awarded from funds supported by the annual pledges of more than 200 Hall of Fame associate members.

Scholarships are available to members of the families of Hall of Fame members.  She is the granddaughter of Phil Gentile.

She is a senior majoring in Child Psychology at James Madison University where she has maintained an above 3.0 grade point average each semester.  She expects to find work in the child psychology field after graduation.  

She has worked since at an Early Childhood Learning Center for the past five summers, beginning at age 16.  She has also volunteered with the Special Olympics program.  At the learning center, she works five days a week with children from six weeks of age to fifth graders, and all ages in between. She eagerly seeks more opportunities to work with kids outside the learning centre, including babysitting one of her 11 young cousins every chance she gets.

James Madison University (JMU), founded more than a century ago in 1908, is a public university located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. JMU has earned high regard in post-secondary education because students enjoy unusually engaged relationships with world-class faculty.

Philip Gentile has been a member of the Hall of Fame since 1993.  His drum corps career includes many years of service in various roles with Yankee Rebels of Baltimore, including drum major, soprano horn player, drill and horn instructor, program coordinator, assistant director.  He became corps director following the retirement of long time director George Bull in 1992.

Regular World Drum Corps Hall of Fame members are honoured for their dedication, contributions and achievements over a long period of time in categories including administration, arranging, adjudication, instruction, innovation and design.  Associate members have dedicated at least five consecutive years of service to any drum and bugle corps as a performer or in a support role.  Special membership categories include inductees honoured for Distinguished Professional Achievement, International Achievement and individuals receiving the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Current membership has grown from six charter members in 1976 to 532 men and women from the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan, including 310 regular members and 213 associates.

The World Drum Corps Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization honoring those individuals who have contributed significantly over many years to the development and continuing excellence of drum and bugle corps activity around the world.  For more information, visit the website at wdchof.org

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Doug Reynolds was outstanding in many fields at the same time: drumming, instruction, administration and judging.

Posted on October 30th, 2020 by Gail Langan

World Drum Corps Hall of Fame member Doug Reynolds of Niagara Falls, Ontario, who passed away October 21 at age 80, earned a reputation as an outstanding snare drummer, percussion instructor, administrator and judge, carrying out all of these functions at the same time from 1953 to 1980.  He became a member of the Hall of Fame in 2002.

According to his wishes, cremation has already taken place.  Donations to the Heart and Stroke Foundation would be appreciated by his family.

He began marching with the Niagara Falls Memorial Militaires at age 15.  In the following years, he drummed with Hamburg Kingsmen and Rochester Crusaders.  He taught drumming to four junior and five senior corps on both sides of the border in the 1960s while he was also corps director of the Militaries, then the board chair of the Kingsmen.

He was undefeated Canadian senior individual snare champion; the first Canadian to win the United States individual title, taking top spot twice in the early 1960s; winner of five New York state titles and three Eastern States titles.  He took private drumming lessons with the late John S. “Jack” Pratt, the Hall of Fame member who introduced rudimental bass drums to the drum corps community and wrote hundreds of drum solos and percussion books.

Doug Reynolds judged percussion for every major association: Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion (AL), Drum Corps International (DCI), Drum Corps Associates (DCA), Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), Canadian nationals and New York, Illinois and California state championships. 

He is survived by Sally, his wife of 61 years who he met at school in grade 3, two sons, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  He spent most of his working career in the pharmaceutical industry.

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No mistake: Buddy Rich club concert created a lifetime memory

Posted on October 19th, 2020 by Gail Langan

By Joe Marrella

(World Drum Corps Hall of Fame member inducted 1989)

Even if I wasn’t a drummer, I would try to see Buddy Rich and his Big Band as often as I could. He was an awesome player and his band’s music was as driving, pulsating and emotional as he was behind those drums!

I saw him several times in Philly with John Dowlan and Eddie Gibbons, as well as in New Hope, Pa., Valley Forge, Pa. and even in Boston, Ma. 

In fact when I was in Boston for the World Open with a few drum corps, I saw an ad that said Buddy Rich was going to perform in concert at a hotel in Boston. I called and made a reservation for the tickets to his show.

When I got to the hotel desk and asked for my tickets, the young girl asked for my name.

Marrella, I replied.

Again, she asked for my name…M a r r e l l a, I spelled slowly.

As she kept looking, I stared at signs on the walls and banners welcoming all the drum corps to the World Open.

She finally said “I have a Merlino”… I said No! 

My name is MARRELLA!!!

By now the manager heard this discussion and came over to try and help. I told him I made a reservation for the Buddy Rich concert and my name was Joe Marrella.

He paused and asked, ” Are you Joe Marrella the drummer?”

Now before I answered, I remembered all the drum corps signs plastered on the walls and thought he meant Joe Marrella, the drum corps drummer.

So, I answered tentatively… “Yes.”

Now came the killer question, “Does Buddy know you are in town?”

I stammered smiling as my voice began to rise in pitch, “I don’t think so.”

At any rate, he got me my tickets and I was on my way before he could ask me any more questions about Buddy.

A few nights later, we arrived at the show and sat through a strong first half performance. As I headed to the concession stand during intermission, I was literarily grabbed by the arm.

“Thank goodness I found you… Buddy told me to bring you back to see him or I was in Big Trouble.”

Oh boy, now what Mr. Marrella?

My name has gotten me noticed before, but never by Buddy Rich. Often times when they announce my name as a judge, especially at the Meadowlands Stadium, now Giants Stadium, it sounds like Morello.

(At another time the real Joe Morello called and asked to meet me… the other Joe Marrella.)

This is a different story for another time.

Back to the frazzled Boston hotel manager…I honestly don’t remember what reason I gave him, but I begged off going to Buddy’s dressing room at that moment. I knew that had I walked into Buddy’s dressing room as Joe Morello, Buddy would have thrown a stick at me!

Let’s fast forward to a Mets baseball game and a private box next to the Mets dugout. I was with a customer from Manny’s Music and his guest, Stanley Kay. Stanley was Buddy Rich’s manager. 

Well, it was a great time for me to tell Stanley about my Boston experience and the misunderstanding regarding my like-sounding name. I always hoped that Stanley would eventually tell it to Buddy.

A few months after the Mets game, Buddy Rich was making another appearance in a club in center city Philly. As usual, I was going to be there. I was with my best friend and outstanding drummer, Eddie Gibbons.

Eddie and I had seen Buddy many, many times together. We always left the show shaking our head about his incredible ability to drive a band and to play things so fast and so precisely.

He was Super Human!

We sat at the bar on the left side of the stage. As was our custom, we arrived early to get a good view. This night was something really special…Buddy walked in and stopped by the bar. 

He was in a friendly mood and anyone who knew him or anything about him knew this was truly Unusual!

Well, here was my chance to tell him face-to-face about the Joe Morello/JoeMarrella story from Boston. When I did…he actually smiled…minor miracle.

When his performance was over, everyone was yelling “Can you play an encore”? In typical Buddy fashion, he answered, “I could… but I won’t.”

Yet, he turned to his left, pointed at me and actually asked what would I like to hear…???

Stunned, I yelled back “Channel One Suite.”

As Eddie and I walked out of the club, I turned to Eddie and proclaimed, “We will never see him again.”

In that brief moment, I had reflected on the events of the evening. I suddenly realized that because I chatted with Buddy, told him my Boston story, and got asked for an encore suggestion that the Buddy Rich/Joe Marrella circle was now complete!

Buddy passed away two months after that meeting.

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