Drum Corps International

Don Whiteley - DCI Hall of Fame

Don Whiteley

Inducted in 1992

Don Whiteley first became aware of the drum corps activity when he was the public relations director for KBTV-9, the ABC television affiliate in Denver. It was through an appearance of the Casper Troopers at the halftime of a Denver Broncos football game at Mile High Stadium in 1969.

Barbre Productions, a film production arm of the television station, was making a documentary on the corps that would be shown in the Rocky Mountain region. The resulting piece, called "The Troopers Are Coming," was eventually shared with television stations in the western United States. It was narrated by television and movie legend Walter Brennan. The hour-long film was eventually made into a 30-minute and a 15-minute edited version that was used for many years by other corps as a recruiting tool.

He quickly became friends with Troopers director Jim Jones, and started helping to plan the corps' cross-country tours. In 1971, Whiteley and Jones established a major competition in Denver called "Drums Along the Rockies." The first show was extremely successful, filling both sides of Jefferson County Stadium, where half the corps performed to one side and half performed to the audience on the other side, and the judges were shuttled back and forth in convertibles driven around the athletic complex's track.

By the fall of 1971, as directors of 13 North American corps moved toward a new organization governed by their leadership rather than by the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Whiteley and Jones decided to start a new publication. They hired Dick Blake, longtime editor of the Boston-based Drum Corps News, to set the plan in motion.

A special edition of the tabloid newspaper Drum Corps World was distributed at the October American Legion Uniformed Groups Congress in Indianapolis, and by December the first regular edition was printed, announcing the formation of Drum Corps International.

The success of Drum Corps World and Drums Along the Rockies caught the attention of DCI executive director Don Pesceone and the DCI board of directors. By 1974, Whiteley was working as a volunteer to promote the DCI Championships at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Following the third season of the highly successful new organization, the DCI board hired him as the full-time public relations and publicity director.

Hitting the ground running, Whiteley moved the activity into new areas of the country, especially the South and West, and through his television contacts, he was instrumental in arranging for the DCI Championships to be televised in 1975 live from Philadelphia's Franklin Field by WGBH, the PBS affiliate in Boston. That fall he staged the first weekend of seminars for show sponsors as part of the DCI winter meetings in Chicago.

Over six seasons, the summer schedule of competitions expanded to include more than four dozen sanctioned shows and major DCI events in every corner of the United States and Canada, including regional contests in Allentown, Pa., Lowell, Mass., Pontiac, Mich., and Whitewater, Wis.

Among his most unusual promotional ideas: Advertising DCI events in regional editions of TV Guide, staging essay contests for fans to receive a personal corps concert while the unit was in town, and naming Baskin-Robbins ice cream flavors after DCI corps (for example, Phantom Regiment Ripple).

Following the 1980 season, he left DCI and the drum corps activity, moved to Atlanta and established a company called Argonne Productions. Over the years, he ran numerous WSB-TV July 4 parades in Atlanta, the welcome home parade in New York City for returning troops from the Gulf War, Christmas parades in several other major cities and many large and unique pageantry events.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he was in charge of the largest float-building barn at the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade and served one term as president of the International Festivals Association, a worldwide organization of parades, festivals and celebrations. DCI has been a member of IFC for almost 25 years.

Over three decade since he first learned about the drum and bugle corps activity, he never lost his interest or enthusiasm for the drum and bugle corps movement and what it meant (and means) for tens of thousands of young people and adults who participate in or follow it.

Whiteley passed away on April 2, 1999.

Biography courtesy of Steve Vickers.