Our History

Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps

Fred & Fae Taylor
Fred & Fae Taylor

Founded by local television stars Fred and Fae Taylor in 1958, the Blue Knights have come from humble beginnings to become one of the most respected, innovative, and successful competitive drum and bugle corps in the world.

After successful appearances in the East at nightclubs, the Palace Theater, and The Ed Sullivan Show, Fred and Fae moved to Denver in 1951 for stage work at nightclubs. In 1953, the Taylors started Soda Shop, a show geared towards teenagers on Channel 2. In 1955, they moved to Channel 9 to have a younger children’s show, Clubhouse Gang. Being from the East Coast where drum and bugle corps were plentiful, Fred maintained an interest in the activity and joined The American Legion Grenadiers Senior Corps. In 1957, the couple opened the very popular Fred and Fae Talent School, as well as starting work on The Fred and Fae Show, which ran on Channel 7 for the next ten years. Fred and Fae retired from full time show business in 1967.

As a drum instructor, Fred had drum students coming up from their talent school with no outlet to use what they had learned. Fred had the idea of forming a junior drum and bugle corps. In 1958, the Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps was incorporated with Fred Taylor, George Young, and Ray Route as directors of the new non-profit organization.

Each member of the drum section owned his own snare drum and Fred provided a bass drum and cymbals. A very small bugle section, directed by George, worked out on borrowed brass bugles. Uniforms were makeshift, appearances scattered, but enthusiasm and loyalty was contagious. A Parents’ Auxiliary was formed and through the efforts of this group the blue uniform with white accessories was established and an emblem was designed.

1958 Corps Picture
1958 Blue Knights

The Early Years

  1960-1 The young Blue Knights, in addition to their many parade appearances around the Denver area, began competing in their inaugural year. The drum corps, now affiliated with American Legion Post 178, raised sufficient funds to attend the 1959 American Legion National Championships in Minneapolis, placing 23rd out of 24 competitors. Undeterred, the corps returned to the American Legion Nationals in 1961, this time held in Denver, to place 9th. The Blue Knights quickly grew in size and ability, and in 1963 they took their only trip to the VFW Nationals, held in Seattle, hoping to stake claim to national attention. In addition to placing 10th in their debut at the prestigious competition, the Blue Knights won the separate color guard championships, besting the likes of the powerhouse Cavaliers and Troopers. This first taste of national success would encourage and exhilarate the young group. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Blue Knights competed regionally in the Great Plains Drum and Bugle Corps Association. Touring alongside the Argonne Rebels, Sky Ryders, Silver Sabres, and the world famous Troopers, the corps got its first consistent series of contests. While competitive success wasn’t easily found, the Blue Knights remained entertaining and stable, and the experiences of touring throughout Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma proved to invaluable to the marching members.

Weathering the Storm

Blue Knights after a parade. (1970s)
Blue Knights (1970s)
After Ray Route’s retirement in 1972, the organization faced a thirteen year span of relative instability. Between 1973 and 1985, the Blue Knights had eight directors, the longest tenured being Richard Wentland, Sr. (1974-1976) and Gary Johnson (1979-1981). The Blue Knights made their first DCI appearance at the 1975 Championships in Philadelphia, placing 11th in A Class. Two years later, at the first DCI Championships hosted in Denver, the corps made their Open Class debut, placing 41st at the old Mile High Stadium. The Blue Knights began regular attendance of the DCI World Championships in 1983, qualifying for DCI membership status 1984 under the direction of George Lindstrom. In 1984, the Blue Knights finished as a semi-finalist for the first-time ever. In the middle of the 1985 tour, amid show design difficulties and internal turmoil, Mark Arnold was hired to stabilize the corps and get the organization on the path to success. He took over for the second half of the tour, and remains the director today.
Blue Knights (1980’s)
During a rehearsal in 1986, the corps’ practice field was struck by lightning, sending over a dozen members to the hospital, two of which were admitted overnight. Overcoming the obstacle, the corps went on to finish 27th place, four places higher than the previous season. Despite this period of transition, the Blue Knights weathered the storm, both figuratively and literally, and began a journey that would take them to new levels of success and organizational stability.

Rising to New Heights

From 1986 to 1991, after reforming the board of directors and streamlining business operations, the corps improved each year both in score and placement, regaining DCI membership and making their first semifinals appearance in 1984 and again in 1987 through 1990.

In 1990, after narrowly missing finals in with a heartbreaking drop from 12th place in Quarterfinals to a 13th place finish in Semifinals, the corps would sing “I Go On”, a selection from that year’s production featuring Bernstein’s Mass. “I Go On”, a song about continuing forward despite tough times and obstacles, would later become the official corps song, and is sung by the corps before every performance that the Blue Knights have.

1991tenorsTrue to the new corps song, the corps forged ahead the following year, capping off its ascent with the Blue Knights’ first Finals appearance in 1991, cementing their place as an elite drum and bugle corps and earning the respect of a worldwide audience. That was also the year of the DOTS uniform designed by David Lacy, a Blue Knight alum. The DOTS uniform featured a modern traditional military look inspired by the United States Air Force Academy ceremonial uniform. The pants were light grey with a white stripe and the jackets were dark navy blue with a unique 21 white button triangle formation on the front, 3 white buttons on each cuff and 2 white buttons on the collar.

Throughout the rest of 1990s, the Blue Knights established themselves as a perennial finalist and as one of the most innovative ensembles in the activity. Slipping out of finals only once from 1991-2000, the corps played a variety of symphonic, classical, and wind literature.

High profile show designers, including Ralph Hardimon, Jim Prime, Jr., and George Zingali, helped the organization reach previously unrealized heights competitively. Achieving their highest placement ever in 2000, the 6th placed corps looked primed to push itself into the upper echelons of the activity with a unique style and a distinct identity.

Despite the overall strength of the organization and the excellent talent of the corps, the show design missed the mark, plunging the corps to a 14th place finish in 2001, their lowest ranking since the 1989 season. After consecutive 13th place finishes in 2002 and 2003, the corps rebounded into DCI Finals at the 2004 World Championships in front of a hometown crowd at INVESCO Field at Mile High. The corps has stayed in DCI Finals since, working their way up to a 7th place finish in 2016.

BlueKnights_percussion1_PACEven with the success that the Blue Knights organization has achieved, the focus has remained on the growth and enrichment of youth. The corps song, “I Go On”, is an important tradition for its members. The song’s lyrics convey the ideal to live by: how one succeeds is not nearly as important as how one faces and overcomes challenges and adversity in drum corps and in life. The Blue Knights continue to strive for performance excellence, but the greater goal is to remain true to the ideals of Fred and Fae Taylor who started the Blue Knights for the purpose of giving young people an outlet to express themselves and gain self-esteem through music and performance.  With a renewed commitment to artistic expression and challenging repertoires, the Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps has reestablished itself as a force within the activity, and the future looks quite bright.

“No one experience stands out in my memory more than the knowledge of being a part of a group of dedicated people who gave birth to an organization that has weathered the test of time for the last thirty years. I was honored to have been given the privilege of being one of the original directors. In that position, I was able to touch the lives of many young people, encourage their self-esteem and help prepare them for adulthood. This goal was accomplished through discipline, organization, music, marching and participation in the total drum corps experience. Most of these young people have taken their place in society and have made us all proud of them.”

~Ray Route upon the 30th anniversary of the Blue Knights

Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps Directors

1958 – 1972 Ray Route
1972 – 1975 Richard Wentland, Sr.
1976 Frank Forrest
1977 Bob Bunce
1978 Bob Lockhart
1979 – 1981 Gary Johnson
1982 Roger Newcomer
1983 Joe Bailey
1984 – 1985 George Lindstrom
1985 – 2019 Mark Arnold
2020 – Present Jordan Helwerda

“Over the last 22 years as Corps Director, my observation has been that the Blue Knights continue to exist because we realize the importance of what it is the organization brings to its youth participants. We are unique. We are driven by our commitment to our mission and exist solely as the result of the hard work of the many volunteers and contributors who share our dedication to this mission. As members, you have aimed for excellence and, in the process, have made lasting friendships and developed skills and values that contributed to your quality of life. Each of you, through your endless hours of rehearsals, hard work and perseverance, molded the organization to what it is today.”

~Mark Arnold upon the 50th anniversary of the Blue Knights


Have something to contribute to our history? Email us at info@ascendperformingarts.org.
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Ken Adams

KEN ADAMS

Mark Arnold is one of the longest-serving Directors in Drum Corps International, serving as Executive Director of the Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps since 1985 and as CEO of Ascend Performing Arts since 2010.

Under his leadership the Blue Knights organization has developed into one of the premier Drum and Bugle Corps in the history of the activity, recognized Internationally for excellence and innovation in the performing arts. Through the years the Blue Knights has expanded its programing and now serves thousands of young musicians and performers annually in multiple performing ensembles, events and educational programs under the umbrella of the Ascend Performing Arts.

In addition to shaping the course of Ascend Performing Arts, Mark also has played an integral role in the ongoing development and successes of Drum Corps International as a collective. He served as chairman of the DCI Board of Directors in 1994 and again from 2008 to 2013. Mark was honored as Corps Director of the Year in 2004, and was the inaugural recipient of the George Bonfiglio Chairman’s Award at the 2012 DCI World Championships, which is given to an individual each year who demonstrates extraordinary leadership and service on behalf of DCI and its performing drum corps.  Mark was inducted into the DCI Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Blue Knights Hall of Fame in 2019.

Prior to his position with the Blue Knights, Mark was the Assistant Director of the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps from 1978 through 1983, serving alongside Director Jim Jones, one of the founders of Drum Corps International and an inaugural member of the DCI Hall of Fame.  Mr. Arnold has a degree in Music Education from the University of Wyoming and taught High School Music in Wyoming and Nebraska from 1979 through 1985.
Mark Arnold

MARK ARNOLD

Scott Factor has served on the Ascend Performing Arts Board from 2012 to 2018 as a voting member in various positions including Vice-Chairman. Since 2019 my role has been in an Advisory position.

Outside of Ascend Performing Arts i am Senior Account Executive for Baxter HealthCare.
Scott Factor

SCOTT FACTOR

I am currently an Ascend Board Member-at-Large.  I have been a volunteer with the Blue Knights since 2013.  I have been serving on the BoD since 2019.  I retired from the United States Postal Service in 2010.  Although I have never marched drum corps I am an avid fan of the activity and thoroughly support our members in any way that I can.  “We Go On”!!! 

Neil Corvino

NEIL CORVINO

Board member Kathy Black is an attorney in New Mexico practicing as a full-time litigator focused on employment and civil rights defense. She came to the law as a second career after twenty-five years in high tech with NCR Corporation, doing everything from operating systems programming to Vice President positions in engineering, customer services, and sales. She earned her JD from Lewis & Clark Law School and her BA from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Ms. Black is active as a percussionist in the Albuquerque area. Way back in 1978 she marched with the Guardsmen, including at DCI Finals in Denver.  After many years of being just a drum corps fan, she was elected to the Drum Corps International Board of Directors in January 2016 and served on that board until January 2022, including three years as chair. 

Kathy Black

KATHY BLACK

Bryant’s path to the Ascend Board of Directors, which began in 2021 as a member-at-large, traces back to his childhood. Watching the Reading Buccaneers senior drum corps practice near his grandparents’ home ignited a lifelong passion, and a student of all thing’s percussion.

Years later a family move to Colorado provided Bryant with a platform to display his passion, both on the stage with the nationally acclaimed Green Earth Percussion Ensemble and on the field as a snare drummer with the Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps until his age-out year in 1984.

In his professional career as the Senior Director of Strategic Accounts at Yokohama Tire Co., Bryant credits the principles instilled by the marching arts and years on tour for his success. On a personal level, the arts played an even larger role, where Bryant met his wife, Stephanie. The Rankin’s currently make their home in South Carolina, enjoying time with their grown children, two incredible grandchildren, and their beloved brown lab, Zoey.
Bryant Rankin

BRYANT RANKIN

Retired, Director, Office of Research and Analysis, Colorado Department of Revenue Ms. Archibeque served 26 years in the area of statistical analysis for the Colorado Department of Revenue and Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Her skills in this area assist the board in developing a strategy for statistical analysis in the area of program evaluation. She has also been a significant volunteer managing and working with volunteers for the organization and will assist the board in understanding the complex nature of the organization. Her personal experiences as a minority and female can inform and promote a more inclusive environment and agenda for the projects that the board supports.

Janet Archibeque

JANET ARCHIBEQUE

Rob Batchelder was appointed to the Ascend Performing Arts Board of Directors in May 2023, and currently serves as Vice Chair. As a member of the Senior Foreign Service, Rob has represented the United States overseas in India, Poland, Germany, Argentina, Nicaragua, Jamaica, and Namibia during a diplomatic career spanning nearly 30 years. He currently serves as Managing Director for Visa Services in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington, DC. Rob marched in the Blue Knights hornline in 1987 and 1988, and he was Drum Major in 1989. He and his family live in Alexandria, Virginia, but his heart still yearns for Colorado.

Rob Batchelder

Rob BATCHELDER