In America's Bicentennial year of 1976, the DCI World Championships returned to Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell and acclaimed as the "Birthplace of America." It's also home to the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field, built in 1895 and the oldest continuously operating football stadium in the nation. The stadium also hosted the Championships in 1975. Still a fairly new corps, just in its sixth year of competition, the Blue Devils took home their first DCI World Championship title ever in 1976. The corps made it into the top-12 for the first time just two years earlier, placing 9th after a 24th place finish at the corps' first Championship appearance in 1973. Prior to the 1975 season, one could have made a killing betting the corps would jump into 3rd place in 1975, and 1976 proved that rapid ascent was not a fluke. The win in 1976 gave the corps the distinction of being the youngest organization to win the title. (15 years later, Star of Indiana came close, winning its title in its seventh year of existence.) Blue Devils also became the first corps to take the top scores in all captions at the Finals. No small part of the success involved finding great instructors, including drummer Rick Odello and drill instructor/designer Mel Statton. In addition, joining the staff was Jim Ott, who had some success with the Stockton Commodores, which was directed by his father. Also brought on board was an unknown brass apprentice by the name of Wayne Downey, who had marched as a member of Santa Clara Vanguard. All of those individuals are now members of the DCI Hall of Fame. At seven minutes, Blue Devils' opener of Bill Reddie's "Channel One Suite" was the longest single musical selection played by a corps up to that time. Bill Reddie wrote the work for the Buddy Rich Band, which recorded the piece live at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for the 1968 album, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." Jazz connoisseurs generally consider this to be Rich's finest album. While Rich allowed many of his band's works to be performed by others during his lifetime, he kept this piece for himself. His drum solos on the work are the stuff of both jazz and drumming legends. One of the first things fans noticed as the corps stepped off to perform—besides a massive wall of sound produced by the horn line—were five sets of scoop-shaped North tenor drums, which looked as if they could be used to vacuum the corps' buses when not in use by the drummers. The drums' most unique sound came in the opener's second movement, when the drummers utilized fluffy mallets to get a soft sound not effectively possible on regular tenor drums. The entire drum line almost magically re-created Rich's extended drum solo toward the end of the piece, leaving many in awe.
1976 Blue Devils
The next piece was Chuck Mangione's "Legend of the One-Eyed Sailor," off his 1972 album "Alive!" and 1983 album "Land of Make Believe." This was a popular piece among corps fans that had been performed as a concert selection in both the corps' 1974 and 1975 productions. It's been written that corps founder Jerry Seawright discovered Mangione's work while listening to an LP and instantly sensed it was perfect for the corps. Mangione, who had directed the Eastman School of Music jazz ensemble in the late 1960s and early 1970s, later was a guest commentator with broadcast host Steve Rondinaro for the 1983 DCI World Championship television show. The show's closer was Mangione's "Chase the Clouds Away," off his 1975 album of the same name and brought back from the corps' 1975 show. For many, this piece was memorable for the silky smooth mellophone solo by Bonnie Ott, sister of Jim. Bonnie reprised that very solo during a tribute to DCI's 40th anniversary during the 2012 World Championship Semifinals in Indianapolis. During this segment visually, the opening wedge to a company front that followed became a corps trademark for many seasons; just one of the show's elements that live in the memories of anyone who had the honor of witnessing this corps live.
1976 Blue Devils
For this week only, you can save on the Legacy Collection DVD that contains this complete Blue Devils performance, along with all finalists from the 1976 DCI World Championships.Buy the 1976 Legacy Collection DVD. (Available this week only for 20% off. Regular price: $35.95.) The 1976 Blue Devils performance is also available on Drum Corps International's brand new Essentials Collection–Champions series on Blu-ray disc. Learn more about the Essentials Collection.
1976 OverviewDiscount DVD offer ends Monday, July 29 at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He has written about the drum corps activity for more than a quarter century and serves as a staff writer for various Drum Corps International projects. Boo has written for numerous other publications and has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating. As an accomplished composer, Boo holds a bachelor's degree in music education and a master's degree in music theory and composition. He resides in Chesterton, Ind.