When the Drum Corps International World Championships went to Kansas City for the first time in 1988, Blue Devils were still undefeated in 26 contests. But the corps slipped to 2nd in the Semifinals and 3rd in Finals, falling behind Santa Clara Vanguard's first of two consecutive versions of "Phantom of the Opera" and the Madison Scouts' winning show. The top five corps in 1988 were separated by a record low of only 2 points. In comparison, the spread from 1st to 5th in 2012 was 4.35 points. This was the first Finals in DCI history where all corps had been finalists in prior years, as well as the first Finals where the finalists from the previous season were the same. The 12-point spread from 1st to 12th also remains the smallest in DCI history. Blue Devils stunned many fans when the corps took the field in 1988 in dark uniform jackets with gray pants and gray shoes, without a hint of blue except for the linings of the color guard's long, flowing skirts. Guard members also released blue balloons into the nighttime sky at the end of the opener, "Happy Days are Here Again." Jack Yellin and Milton Ager wrote the tune for the end of the 1930 MGM film, "Chasing Rainbows." Ironically, the times were anything but happy, as this was at the start of the Great Depression. The corps' somber rendition seemed to play off this melancholy. Harold Arlen is best known for composing "Over the Rainbow" and other hit songs for "The Wizard of Oz," the 1939 film that made Judy Garland a mega-star. "That Old Black Magic" was first recorded in 1942 by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra and was his last number one hit. Johnny Mercer, four-time Academy Award composer and co-founder of Capitol Records, wrote the lyrics with Garland in mind, but she was not in the 1943 Paramount Pictures production of "Star Spangled Rhythm," produced as a World War II morale booster. An interesting side note is that the Bluecoats also played the tune in their show the same year, though it was based on a quite different arrangement. Coincidentally, the two corps would both play "Johnny One Note" the following season. Ashley Alexander, a famed jazz trombone educator who died the day before the 1988 DCI World Championship Prelims, wrote the highly spirited jazz band arrangement upon which the Blue Devils' version of "That Old Black Magic" was based. Donall Piestrup did several arrangements for the Buddy Rich Band. His "Goodbye Yesterday" came off Rich's 1968 album, "Mercy, Mercy," recorded live at the third of three back-to-back performances at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. This famed album also introduced the world to "Channel One Suite," performed by the Blue Devils during their first DCI title season in 1976.
1988 Blue Devils
As performed by the Devils, the piece had an intense-yet-relaxed quality to it, starting with a soprano and baritone duet and eventually turned into a Buddy Rich-like drum feature. During this percussion highlight, a giant revolving parachute carried by the contra horn players was accompanied by four large rotating maypole-like configurations of eight banners each, each carried by brass players and then pulled apart to become flags in the hands of the color guard. Woodrow Buddy Johnson wrote the blues ballad closer of "Since I Fell for You" in 1945 for his sister, Ella Johnson, who sang with his jazz orchestra. The corps' version was based on jazz pianist Bob James' arrangement for himself and jazz saxophonist David Sanborn on their 1986 smooth jazz album, "Double Vision." Jazz stylist Al Jarreau provided the vocals for the selection, the only vocal work among the seven tracks on the album. Ten seconds after the corps had completed the show with a huge wall of brass sound, a lone bass drum started up the beat to exit the field. The brass then launched into a reprise of the melody, featuring high note playing soloists as the corps exited the field. One by one, each section of brass and drums dropped out until there were only two soloists left, leading directly into the plaintive "boom-boom-boom" of a single bass drummer to keep all in step as the remainder of the corps left the field. For myself and countless others, it was the single most captivating moment of the year. 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 1988 DCI World Championships. Buy the 1988 Legacy Collection DVD. (Available this week only for 20% off. Regular price: $35.95.)
1988 Blue Devils
1988 OverviewDiscount DVD offer ends Monday, April 8 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.