About the Blue Knights Organization
Mission Statement »
The Story of the Blue Knights »
Instructional and Competitive Philosophy »
Corps Directors History »
"The goals of the Blue Knights are to further the education and growth toward maturity of young people by providing them the opportunity to participate in a performing musical organization of the highest competitive caliber. The Blue Knights create an environment that encourages self-discipline, develops leadership skills, and enhances self-esteem… where young people can experience the pride of accomplishment through teamwork."
The Story of the Blue Knights
The story of the Blue Knights began in an improbable way. The corps was founded by Fred and Fae Taylor, ex-vaudeville comedians and musicians who had appeared at many east-coast nightclubs (including the famous Palace Theater) and on the Ed Sullivan Show. Growing tired of life on the road, the Taylors moved to Denver in 1951 to look for steadier work. Shortly after they arrived, Denver’s first television station, KFEL Channel 2, hit the airwaves and was in desperate need of programming to fill up its airtime. Fred and Fae talked the station’s owner into letting them produce a teen-age “Soda Shop” show, which quickly drew the loyal following of many Denver adolescents after they got home from school.
Fred and Fae were quickly becoming fixtures of early Denver television. In 1955, they moved to a different station and created “Clubhouse Gang,” an early knockoff of the Mickey Mouse Club aimed at a young audience. Two years later, they debuted “The Fred and Fae Show” which was to continue for over a decade. Like all ‘50s local television shows for children, the show was produced on a small budget (and it looked it), the jokes were hokey and the music sounded tinny coming over the poor speakers of early TV sets. And, the kids couldn’t get enough of it. Parents quickly learned how mesmerizing a “radio with pictures” was to their youngsters, and were happy that wholesome programs like “The Fred and Fae Show” were available for them to watch.
Fred Taylor was, among other things, an accomplished drummer. In 1957, he joined the Denver American Legion Grenadiers Senior Corps to give himself an opportunity to play his favorite instrument. Fred was familiar with drum corps from growing up on the east coast, and enjoyed performing with a bigger ensemble than he’d been used to in nightclubs and on television. At the same time, the Taylors opened the very popular Fred and Fae Talent School, which provided their many followers a chance to receive voice and instrumental music lessons from the popular duo.
Fred gave percussion lessons at the school, and found himself with many talented students who had no place to perform. Recognizing the great opportunity that drum corps provided to him and his fellow Grenadiers, Fred and Fae decided to start a junior drum and bugle corps. This coincidence of events, Fred’s drumming prowess and senior corps experience coupled with the desire to give expression to the talents of percussion students at the school, brought about the formation of the Blue Knights in 1958. Fred Taylor, George Young and Ray Route were named its first board of directors.
So, instead of being part of the youth activities of a veteran’s organization as was so often the case in the post-war 40s and 50s, the Blue Knights grew out of an interest in drumming as an outlet for musical expression. This was a unique viewpoint because in the early days drum corps was focused primarily on the brass. Military “bugle calls” played on piston-less Boy Scout bugles formed the repertoire of the early junior corps, with drumming viewed merely as an accompaniment for the horns. With the Blue Knights, percussion has always been of great importance, and as will be seen, this emphasis on and respect for drummers continues to this day.
In the first Blue Knights corps, a parade unit, each member of the drum section had to bring his or her own snare drum, with Fred providing a bass drum and a pair of cymbals from the school. A very small bugle section, directed by George Young, played on borrowed brass bugles. Uniforms were makeshift, and often didn’t precisely match, but that was secondary to the chance to march down the street in front of a crowd. Back in those days, there were many parades, many more than one sees in the 21st century. Counting local and national holidays and events, a drum corps could perform in as many as 20 parades a year in a metropolis the size of Denver. The corps had a ready-made reputation and gained attention at these events due to the involvement of the Taylors, who were highly recognizable celebrities around town.
Col. Ray Route was the corps director from its inception in 1958 until 1972. Ray’s sons Gary (drum major 1969-1970) and Ron (who went on to become a Rear Admiral in the Navy) marched in the corps. At that time, the Blue Knights were run like any local youth sports team or scout troop, with parents providing instruction, fundraising and operational support. Col. Route, along with Fred Taylor and George Young, provided the leadership to keep the organization going in the early days. Route said this about his experiences on the occasion of the Blue Knights’ fortieth anniversary in 1998:
"No one experience stands out in my memory more than the knowledge of being a part of a group of dedicated people who gave birth to an organization that has weathered the test of time for the last forty years. I was honored to have been given the privilege of being one of the original directors. In that position, I was able to touch the lives of many young people, encourage their self-esteem and help prepare them for adulthood. This goal was accomplished through discipline, organization, music, marching and participation in the total drum corps experience. Most of these young people have taken their place in society and have made us all proud of them."
The corps quickly gained experience and decided to enter into field competition, its first being in Greeley, Colorado in 1958. The following year, the corps raised money to go to Minneapolis, MN for the VFW championships, where it placed 23rd out of 24 junior corps. In 1961 the American Legion championships were held in Denver, and the Blue Knights placed 9th in a competition that included the Garfield Cadets, Troopers, Royal Airs, Argonne Rebels and Marion Cadets. One great memory of those early years was in Seattle in 1963, when the corps won the national color guard championship and the corps posted a tenth-place finish.
The Blue Knights joined the Great Plains Drum and Bugle Corps Association in 1963. With this affiliation, the corps began many years of regional competitions in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. The Taylors would have been proud, and probably a little surprised, that their corps is the only surviving Great Plains Association unit in existence today. But back in the 60’s, each year included visits to places like Hutchinson, Great Bend, Wichita, Newton, Casper and Enid. The corps settled into its place in the lower echelon of the Association alongside the Trailblazers, Scarlet Lancers, Plainsmen, Phantoms and Legionettes. This pattern continued throughout the rest of the 60s. In 1968, a former Blue Knight formed another corps, the Eldoradans, in the Denver area.
Throughout the 1970s, while the corps generally struggled on the competition field, the color guard achieved a significant milestone in 1973 by beating the world-famous Troopers guard in the separate color guard competition that used to be held prior to drum corps shows. The Blue Knights became a perennial small corps (what would be called a Division II-III unit today) that was entertaining, but whose main attribute was that it remained in existence year to year.
The corps had the privilege of hosting the DCI World Championships in Denver in 1977, 1978 and 2004. These were special experiences for the Blue Knights.
Drums Along the Rockies was resurrected in 1979 (the phrase was coined in 1964 in reference to the Great Plains show held in Denver, but the name was dropped for a few years before returning for good in ‘79), and has become the signature event of the Blue Knights. From its beginnings at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds to its longstanding run at Mile High Stadium, to its new home in Invesco Field at Mile High, the show has always drawn inordinately large and loud crowds that have showered the corps with support. It remains an important regional championship competition, as well as the corps’ single largest fundraising event for the corps.
The fortunes of the Blue Knights took an important step forward with the arrival of George and Lynn Lindstrom in 1984. George had been a director and marching member of the Racine Kilties, one of the most prominent corps of its day, and for the first time the Blue Knights had a leader that taught the members the kind of effort that was needed at rehearsals and on the field to “be a real drum corps.” Lynn was a longtime color guard member and instructor, and a key player in WGI. Here the corps took a major leap forward in its professionalism. This also coincided with another important event: the beginning of the corps bingo operation, which, for the first time in its history, provided the organization with enough money to buy equipment, uniforms and buses.
Summer travel in a drum corps always has its memorable moments. One night in Port Huron, Michigan in 1984, the Blue Knights shared housing with the Santa Clara Vanguard. As retold by corps member David Pressley: “Shortly after lights out an SCV instructor entered our side of the partitioned gym and announced SCV’s schedule for the next day, never realizing that he was talking to the wrong corps until someone asked him, “Hey, man, who’s the Vanguard?” Mellophone Leslie Geist marched in the mid-80s, and one of her fondest recollection was of “Frank Meachum drinking the 3-bean salad juice out of the cooler because he thought it was lemonade!”
Toward the end of 1985, Mark Arnold took over as the Blue Knights director. Mark had been a staff member for the Troopers under Jim Jones, and was working with the River City Railmen that year. He happened to be in Casper visiting his friend Casey Smith (later to become the well-known “walk around the stands” announcer for Drums Along the Rockies), who had also been on the Trooper staff and had been working with the Blue Knights. Casey got a call from the Denver corps asking him for a recommendation for its vacant director position. Casey replied: “I know just the guy for the job; he’s sitting right here.”
Under Mark’s early years at the helm, the corps went from 31st place in 1985 to a DCI finalist in 1991. Legendary instructors such as George Zingali and Ralph Hardimon came to work with the corps. Finally, after 35 years of relative obscurity, the Blue Knights were approaching the “elite” status to which all corps aspire.
In the last decade, the Blue Knights have enjoyed success on the competitive field. Since 1991, the corps has consistently placed in finals, having placed as high as 6th at DCI Finals in 2000. Another key achievement for the Blue Knights organization in the 1990s was its leadership role in creating the most successful percussion ensemble program in the country.
Continuing the corps’ longstanding focus on the percussive arts, the two Blue Knights Percussion Ensembles have developed into respected performance groups both locally and internationally since their inception in 1993. The program’s initial purpose was to train local talent for possible future membership in the Blue Knights. As the corps continued to improve, so did the talent level of those who were accepted for membership, especially in the area of percussion. Each year, more highly qualified drummers and keyboardists came to the corps from outside the Denver area, and local talent was being turned away. Answering the need to have a means for involving these local percussionists, the Percussion Ensemble program was launched, and since that time the integration of this organization with the competitive drum corps has been impressive. Today, more than 50% of the percussionists marching in the corps have been members of the Percussion Ensemble program. Students from 23 Denver-area high schools and colleges participate.
The Blue Knights were the driving force in the establishment of the Rocky Mountain Percussion Association in 1994. The Blue Knights World Percussion Ensemble has won 4 world championship titles at the Winter Guard International World Championships in Dayton, Ohio.
The Stampede, the official drum line of the Denver Broncos, was created as a result of the success of the Blue Knights percussion ensemble program.
The new millennium presented opportunities for the Blue Knights to expand their programs to include a Winter Brass Ensemble in 2004 and, in 2007, an independent World Colorguard, Opus 10.
Even with the success that the Blue Knights organization has achieved, the focus has remained on the growth and enrichment of youth. The corps’ theme song, “I Go On,” is an important tradition for the members. The song’s lyrics convey the ideal that the corps lives by: how one succeeds is not nearly as important as how one faces and overcomes challenges and adversity, in drum corps and in life. The corps continues to strive for performance excellence, but the greater goal is to remain true to the objectives of Fred and Fae Taylor, who started the corps for the purpose of giving young people an outlet to express themselves and gain self-esteem through music and performance. As long as the members of the Blue Knights drum corps and percussion ensembles continue to feel they have gained the benefits of hard work, camaraderie and group achievement, then the organization will have succeeded in carrying out the Taylor’s dream.
Reprinted with permission of Steve Vickers, Publisher, Drum Corps World and Blue Knights Corporate Board of Directors member 1975—1978.
Instructional and Competitive Philosophy
The Blue Knights organization strives to seek the highest caliber instructional staff to accomplish the stated goals of the organization. Throughout its history the Blue Knights has been blessed with an instructional staff which understands that the positive development of our youth participants is the vehicle for their own self-fulfillment. Our activities provide us with an unparalleled opportunity to make meaningful impacts upon the lives of our youth participants.
The youth who come to our organization, and the parents who send them, place in us the ultimate trust to do what is right for them.
A majority of our activities are, by their very nature, competitive. Each individual organization is responsible for developing and assimilating our philosophy to its members, staff, volunteers and parents, in the Blue Knights organizations. The philosophy of our units as competitive organizations is the sole responsibility of the upper management.
Our philosophy, simply stated, is to be as competitive as possible on our arena. Utilizing our Mission Statement as our foundation, through providing our membership with a quality program and a staff of skilled designers and instructors, competitive success will be a natural by-product of our endeavors.
In the Blue Knights we define “winning” as doing the best possible job, both on AND off the field of competition. Competition can indeed be an ugly experience unless we keep in mind just who we are here for… OUR MEMBERS… PERIOD. In the face of our competitive battles, we expect our staff to never let their egos and personal goals supersede the goals of our organization.
Corps Directors History
"No one experience stands out in my memory more than the knowledge of being a part of a group of dedicated people who gave birth to an organization that has weathered the test of time for the last thirty years. I was honored to have been given the privilege of being one of the original directors. In that position, I was able to touch the lives of many young people, encourage their self-esteem and help prepare them for adulthood. This goal was accomplished through discipline, organization, music, marching and participation in the total drum corps experience. Most of these young people have taken their place in society and have made us all proud of them."
.....Ray Route upon the 30th anniversary of the Blue Knights
Blue Knights Corps Directors
|1958 - 1972||Ray Route|
|1972 - 1975||Richard Wentland, Sr.|
|1979 - 1981||Gary Johnson|
|1982 ||Roger Newcomer|
|1984 - 1985||George Lindstrum|
|1985 - present||Mark Arnold|
"Over the last 22 years as Corps Director, my observation has been that the Blue Knights continue to exist because we realize the importance of what it is the organization brings to its youth participants.
We are unique. We are driven by our commitment to our mission and exist solely as the result of the hard work of the many volunteers and contributors who share our dedication to this mission. As members, you have aimed for excellence and, in the process, have made lasting friendships and developed skills and values that contributed to your quality of life. Each of you, through your endless hours of rehearsals, hard work and perseverance, molded the organization to what it is today."
.....Mark Arnold upon the 50th anniversary of the Blue Knights