The Road to Excellence - 50 Years of BD Volume I 1948-1956
February 21, 2002
Dear Dave and Jerry,
Thank you for your interest in the history of the Martinettes. It was fun to work with my wife Martha, and have our son Terry in the drum corps and daughter Cookie in first, the majorette corps and later, in the drill team. They were both in the Mt. Diablo High School Band later, and Cookie was one of the original Raiderettes from age 15-21.
I was the drum instructor for the kids and made sure that they all knew the rudiments and could sight read the parts. Martha worked with me to design innovative drills. We used lead soldiers to work out field competition programs. The drummers won numerous parade awards between 1948 and 1952, but in the meantime we were working on field competition ideas. Using prize money won in parades we were able to buy 2 tenor drums. Brothers Hugh and Tommy Brown became tenors and learned to twirl mallets and taught bass drummers and cymbal players to twirl. Ed O'Malley, a former circus drummer owned a drum shop in Oakland, and with his help the cat-gut snares were shellacked and we added snare releases which enabled the drummers to play Latin rhythms. Additionally, the corps played Connecticut Halftime, Newport, and other standards. I believe we were the first to include a cowbell. Although we lost the first State field competition to the San Bruno Boys Club, we won in 1953, 54, 55, 56, and won 49 straight first place parade awards. It gave the corps a lot of pride to be able to display the California State championship flag. In those early days the drum heads were made of calfskin and had to be soaked until soft enough to cut to size and tuck around the rim. Sometimes the family's baths had to wait until the skins were removed from the bathtub. I still have my tucking spoon. All the drummers learned to use the tucking spoon.
It was quite an honor to have both Martinette groups represent the state of New Jersey in the Lions Club International Parade, in San Francisco. The delegates were dismayed when they saw that their reps were kids, but were astonished at the quality of their performance, and overjoyed to take home the two huge first place trophies since we had entered them in the adult classifications.
The Martinettes performed for a lot of functions, but their favorite was at the Shrine Crippled Childrens' Hospital in S.F., where the performance was on the lawn with the kids watching through their windows.
We disbanded the corps after winning the state title in 1956 and turned them over to Tony Odello. Tony did a fine job. The VFW became sponsors and we sold all the equipment to them, and divided the money between the drummers who had worked so hard to restore the old drums and took such good care of them. After losing the state title in 1957, Tony asked me to return to teaching the drummers, now the Blue Devils, which I did. Glockenspiels were added and Martha taught them, allowing melodies to be played. The corps returned to their winning ways, winning the state titles in 1958-59-60.
We moved to Berkeley, so I resigned from the teaching position, having formed a new dance band, and working most weekends.
The Martinettes Girls Drill Team grew out of the majorette corps. The reason was simple: Majorettes won trophies, drill teams won money. Since the Martinettes were self-supporting with no sponsors, it became necessary to find cash to pay for the uniforms and other expenses. Some of the uniforms were made by moms, and Martha made the others. Many of the drill team members were her dance students. She created parade and field competition programs which combined dance and traditional drills. At this time there were only 'junior drill teams'. After we beat the Santa Rosa Boys' Club for the California. State Championship, there immediately became two classifications; Jr. boys drill team, and Jr. girls drill team, which we had proposed during meetings many times and were denied.
We tried hard to raise enough money to have the drill team compete in the Nationals in Florida, but just couldn't so it. The Martinettes were winning first place in parades and field competitions all over Northern California, and Reno, and when there were no more challenges we disbanded. Something unique about the Martinettes: the original members were very protective of the organization, so in order to be considered for membership, prospective members had to be recommended by two Martinettes.
I cherish the plaque the Blue Devils gave me several years ago, along with a photo album and comments from parents and kids. The plaque says, 'To Bill Martin, who started it all.'
We've watched the Blue Devils rise to great heights and you deserve huge congratulations. Just as with any group the parents deserve a lot of credit for their support and encouragement.