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(Photo submitted by the Racine Heritage Museum)
(Photo submitted by the Racine Heritage Museum)

Drum and Bugle Corps, Racine residents have been quite smitten with them for generations. They are a mainstay in all of our parades. They hook us with their pomp and regal attitude. Then they keep us entertained with their music. Here’s a little history behind that love affair.

Once called the “Drum and Bugle Corps Capital of the World,” Racine has produced, supported and been entertained by numerous corps that marched in parades, performed near and far, and competed in national and international drum corps events.

1916 was the year that members of Batteries C & F of the 1st Wisconsin Field Artillery organized themselves into the Racine American Legion Drum & Bugle Corps. Racine’s American Legion Post 76 received its charter 1920, and became the sponsors of the Drum Corps, which then changed its name to Boys of 76.

(Photo submitted by the Racine Heritage Museum)

A Consistent Drum and Bugle Beat

This corps was very successful in national competitions, receiving four consecutive American Legion National Championships, from 1922 to 1925. In 1927 they traveled to the first International American Legion Conference, held in Paris, France. Donations from many local service organizations, the Horlick family and the Journal Times, plus a grant from the State of Wisconsin helped fund the trip. The Hartmann Luggage Company provided luggage to all the Corps members for the journey.

That same year, 1927, Racine Boy Scout Troop 15, of Atonement Lutheran Church formed a drum & bugle corps. Soon reorganized to enable boys from all of Racine and Racine County to join the group, from 1935 to 1940 the Racine Scouts were undefeated in all competitions entered. The Boy Scouts also supported a Junior Drum & Bugle Corps for younger boys; in 1959 this “feeder corps” was 120 members strong as it marched in Racine’s Fourth of July Parade.

The Racine Kilties Begin

1934 saw the arrival of the YMCA Kilties Drum and Bugle Corps. The corps’ first outing was close to home, marching in Racine’s 1936 Fourth of July Parade. Beginning in the 1950s the corps was traveling widely and collecting championships all over the nation. In 1967, having experienced terrific growth, the Kilties became independent of the YMCA and became the Racine Kilties. Later the name was changed again to the Racine Kilts.

In 1963, Racine’s first all-girl drum and bugle corps, the Ambassa-“Dears” was organized. At the time most drum corps were for boys only. By the 1970s the Racine Explorer Scouts drum & bugle corps was co-ed, and the Kilties opened their ranks to girls in 1978.

(Photo submitted by the Racine Heritage Museum)

Other Drum & Bugle Corps have formed and performed in Racine; the Boys of ’76, the Racine Scouts and the Kilties were the strongest and longest-lived of the many. In the 1980s rising costs and changing interests affected the size of the local corps. Today’s drum corps are fewer and smaller, but continue to march and make martial music.

NOTE: Since this article originally appeared in 2005, much has been published on Racine’s Drum & Bugle history, including the extensive We Winna Be Dauntit! The History of the Racine Kilties, 1934-1992, and its companion compilation, Kiltie Kadets by George D. Fennell. Other works by Fennell include The Racine American Legion Post 76 Drum & Bugle Company: A Scrapbook History, 1916-1946, and Racine: Drum & Bugle Capital of the World (Images of America Series). Racine’s beloved Horlick Field and its long association with the corps is chronicled in Drums Along the Foundries by Alan Karls. These books are available at Racine Heritage Museum.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.