The Seattle Cascades is the oldest continually operating drum and bugle corps in the Pacific Northwest.. It could be said that the Cascades began in 1957, 1964, 1966 or 1970 depending on how its origins are interpreted. The Seattle Thunderbirds and the Seattle Cascades share the same founders as well as many other people who were associated with both corps. The organization seeks to keep the Seattle Thunderbird's memory alive by including it in their history. Without this great corps the Seattle Cascades would not be what it is today.
The Beginning: 1957
In 1957 Jack Avery created the all-male Greenwood Boys Club Drum and Bugle Corps in Seattle’s Greenlake area. With 20 boys, the Pacific Northwest’s first drum corps was created as a school-sponsored musical troop. At the same time, Roderick Stubbs had just become principal of the area’s new school, Woodrow Wilson Junior High School. With a need for rehearsal facilities, Avery asked Stubbs for use of his school for practices. Stubbs was pleased to oblige.
In 1958, Stubbs became the director of the new corps and changed the name to the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds, complete with a totem-pole logo, traveled south to a new theme park called Disneyland. Because no other corps existed in the Northwest, performances usually consisted of concerts, exhibitions and parades. It wasn’t long, however, that other new corps were being started throughout Washington and Oregon.
During those early years, parents helped transport the corps to local competitions and events in large carpools. One of the biggest and most exciting shows was held in Pasco, located in E WA. To help fund the corps, a bingo game was started at a local VFW hall. The Greenlake VFW became one of the corps’ primary sponsors.
In 1963, VFW Nationals was held in Seattle at Memorial Stadium on the grounds of the Seattle World’s Fair. One of the participants, the St. Paul Scouts from Minnesota, performed a new style of field drill with show tunes, never before seen or heard in the Northwest. Thunderbirds members were in awe! The following season the Seattle corps’ staff asked the St Paul Scouts’ arranger to write the Thunderbirds’ musical book. The corps introduced their new drill, complete with Broadway show tunes, to Northwest audiences in 1964. This was not the only first for the Seattle corps. The Thunderbirds was the first drum and bugle corps on the West Coast to carry a contra bass in their horn line as well as the first to add multi tenors to the percussion section, which enabled them to keep up with national trends in the activity.
In a rare foray away from the West Coast, the corps boarded a train in 1964 to make the journey to VFW Nationals in Cleveland, OH. In a small town along the way, the train made an unscheduled and sudden stop. Because of corps members’ voracious appetites, they had eaten all the food! Railway employees ran to the local grocery store, probably buying everything in sight, just to keep the corps fed and happy. Once in Cleveland, the Thunderbirds stayed in motels and moved around the city in rented station wagons.
Traveling by train, renting cars and being transported around the region by carpool became too time consuming and expensive. So upon their return to Seattle, Stubbs purchased on old Greyhound bus. It then became his responsibility to buy groceries for the hungry horde of drum corps members!
The Feeder Corps: 1964
In the mid to late 60's, the directors of the Thunderbirds were George Laumin and Jack Little. In 1964, the Thunderbirds started a feeder corps and named it the Thunderbird Cadets directed by Rod Stubbs and Jack Avery. The major performance during its inaugural season was the Rose Festival Parade in Portland, OR.
The New Corps: 1966
In 1966, after administrative strife, many of the Thunderbird Cadet members were moved up to the Seattle Thunderbirds "A" Corps, Stubbs left to create a new corps with some of the Thunderbird Cadet members. They were renamed the Cascade Cadets. The Seattle Thunderbirds continued to field a corps until 1972.
Also that year, The Thunderbird "A" Corps traveled to Southern California where they won the AA Nationals. The head judge of that show was Gail Royer. Gail put the Santa Clara Vanguard on the field the very next year.
The first time a color guard was included in a field show involved an American flag section. Eventually rifles and very tall and heavy flags were added. In 1969, Stubbs helped create a local winter guard circuit called the Northern American Pageantry Association, which later became the Northwest Pageantry Association. The first indoor winter color guard show was held in a navy base airport hanger. Talk about a a humble beginning!
The New Name: 1970
In 1970, many of the Thunderbirds staff defected to the Cascade Cadets, bringing many of its members with them. The corps chose to operate under its current moniker, the Seattle Cascades. The organization made its first appearance at the Drum Corps International (DCI) World Championships in Boulder, CO in 1976, placing 45th in Open Class (Division I today). They also competed in the American Legion Championships in a nearby Denver suburb. This was one of the last times that the American Legion held a drum and bugle corps championship. DCI was gradually becoming the premier drum corps association due to the reluctance of VFW and American Legion to allow more creative freedom in the activity. The following year, the Cascades moved up to 34th in DCI with a score of 64.45.
The Cascades lost many of its members to another local corps in 1980. With a significantly reduced membership, the organization persevered as a parade corps for several years, performing only at local events and parades. For one brief year in 1985, the Cascades returned to DCI national competition, placing 15th in Division III.
While the corps grew, becoming a competitive national power was not the primary focus of the organization. Rather, the philosophy was to provide a healthy experience in the drum corps activity for local youths. If the corps was ever going to achieve national prominence it would be as an unplanned byproduct of its primary reason for existence at the time. That humble attitude and the isolation of drum corps in the NW likely contributed to the corps’ health and financial stability for so many years. In contrast, the high costs of operating a large traveling organization in the ‘80s destroyed many other corps throughout America.
While those were lean years for the Seattle organization, they were even more heart breaking for many other corps. From the mid ‘80s to early ‘90s all the remaining Northwest corps ceased operations, mostly due to financial constraints. Yet, the Cascades continued to march on, year after year.
For six years beginning in 1991, the corps returned to DCI national competition, placing 12th in Division III that first year. The Cascades moved to Division II the following season. This period of consistent national exposure culminated in a sixth place finish in 1996 with a score of 86.60, the highest ever achieved at this point in its history.
However, one year earlier in 1995, there was much internal parental strife concerning the overall direction of the corps. The years of national competition inspired a desire in many for a more nationally competitive unit. After 36 years, Stubbs stepped down from the corps director position and remained as the executive director until 1997. Roderick Stubbs, who never received any financial compensation during more than three decades of service, continues to be involved with the activity. He directs the Echo Lake Middle School Winter Guard. Over the years as executive director, many of his members have marched with the Blue Devils, Glassmen, Santa Clara Vanguard, Emerald Marquis, Every-Body and many other of the drum corps activity’s most revered organizations.
The next couple of years saw a great deal of turnover in the corps leadership and staff as the Cascades struggled to develop a focused and strong direction for its future. The growing pains were difficult but the board of directors was determined to build the corps the right way. Board member Sal Leone, who started his association with the corps as a parent of a corps member, became a leader in advocating for quality in all aspects of its operation.
Jim Johnson was the corps director from 1996-1997. Following Johnson’s departure, the corps was forced to make the difficult decision to become inactive for the first time due to funding and staffing issues. Often, an inactive status is the kiss of death for a corps. But a determined group of supporters refused to let the Cascades die, as so many Northwest corps had already done. Sal Leone became the executive director in 1997 and continues in this role today. With an emphasis on ethics, quality and performance excellence, the Seattle Cascades Drum and Bugle Corps has entered a new era in its history.
Following Sheri Evald in 1997, Mike Martin in 1998-1999, Jeff Ray in 1999 and Toby Bathhurst also in 1999, Sal Leone added the title of corps director in 2000 to ensure continuity and stability. He retained this position until February of 2006.
In 2000, the Cascades had one of its greatest seasons, winning the Division III DCI World Championship in Washington, DC with the highest score the corps had ever received. That score enabled the corps to compete in Division II. The Cascades placed 23rd with a score of 67.50. The organization was also honored at the championships with the Spirit of Disney Award, which is given to one corps in each classification with the most entertaining family-oriented show.
Moving up in class to Division II in 2001 was an obvious decision. Nearly doubling in size, the corps had an amazing year. A talented group of more than 100 members helped bring the Cascades to a pivotal point in its history. Winning most shows and never placing lower than second, the corps surprised and entertained audiences everywhere during its national tour! Powerful musicians, the intriguing, contemporary music of David Holsinger, an entertaining field drill and one of the best percussion sections and color guards the corps has ever had, helped bring a Division II silver-medal finish at the DCI World Championships. Once again due to its high placement in Division II finals, the corps competed in Division I, beating several larger, established Division I corps. The Cascades placed 17th in semifinals, receiving a score of 78.30 and an ovation from the Wilson Stadium crowd in Buffalo, NY.
Before leaving NY, the corps declared its intention to compete in Division I in 2002, the first time since 1994 that the Northwest will be represented in this elite class of nationally touring corps. With nearly 200 musicians and color guard members vying for positions in the corps, the inspiring music of Leonard Bernstein and a drill designed by Myron Rosander, the Seattle Cascades had the most successful seasons in the history of Northwest Drum and Bugle Corps. The 2002 Corps became one of the elite, making the Top 12 as a world finalist DCI Corps. One of the best in the world!
During the years of 2003 and 2004 the corps had very successful seasons performing dramatic and challenging productions. Both seasons they acquired a 15th placement at DCI securing their objective of being a strong Division I corps on a national level. In 2005, the corps placed 17th in Semifinals with their show titled "Airborne Symphony".
Sal Leone resigned from his position as corps director in the winter of 2006. Jimmy Fursman took on the role of Interim Corps Director and led the corps to a 19th place finish in 2006. After the 2006 season, former Oregon Crusaders director Mike Leone was hired as the executive director of the Cascades.
Corps Song: "Imagine" written by John Lennon, a tribute to the 1996 season (a Beatles show), which was the first year the Cascades really had a shot at making finals, and is considered by many a turning point for the corps. When Rod Stubbs founded the corps in 1957 his intention was to make sure the corps maintained a substance abuse free atmosphere grounded in dedication and respect. This policy is still in effect, and an annual award is given out in Stubbs' name to the member who most exemplifies this.
- In partnership with other community and educational organizations we provide intensive competitive musical performance activities, which develop life-long skills in our youth. -
The current staff bus used to belong to the late country star Tammy Wynette. The staff bus' fleet callsign on tour is "Apollo," due to the frequency with which it breaks down on tour.
seattlecascades.org Official website