Before the Blue Devils marched into Concord, there were the Martinettes

Before the Blue Devils marched into Concord, there were the Martinettes
Martinettes founders Bill and Martha Martin stand with daughter Cookie and son Terry.

CONCORD, CA — While celebrating the 4th of July with friends, I learned that two of them were Martinettes – the very beginning of the Blue Devils.

You might be familiar with the Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps, originally known as the Concord Blue Devils until so many of them came from all over America and the world.

In 1948, Bill and Martha Martin dreamed about starting a drum corps. Acting on their thoughts, Bill became the drum instructor. Martha designed innovative drills.

They had lead “soldiers” to work out field competition programs. Between 1948 and 1951, the drummers won numerous parade awards. They used the prize money to buy two tenor drums. After that, Bill taught two talented brothers, Hugh and Tom Brown, how to play them. They also learned to twirl mallets and taught the bass drummers and cymbal players to twirl.

As you can imagine, the Martinettes were on their way to success.

Drums and cowbells

Ed O’Malley owned a drum shop and with his help, they shellacked the cat gut snares and added snare releases so the drums could play Latin rhythms. It is believed that the corps was the first to add a cowbell to the mix. Voila, a new sound.

This early photo of the Martinettes includes Barbara Buscaglia Strelitez and Delores (Dee) Durante Yount, ­second and third in back row, and Cookie Martin, at left in front row. (Photo Courtesy of Dee Duarte Yount)

My friends Barbara Buscaglia Strelitez, Dee Durante Yount and Cookie Martin were members of the first Martinettes Girls Drill Team. Many on the team were Martha’s dance students. The reason was simple: Majorettes won trophies and drill teams won money.

The Martinettes won all but one competition they entered. The biggest was the California state championship. Although they lost the first competition, they went on to win in 1953, ’54, ’55 and ’56. Bill Martin had won 49 first-place parade awards, and the group was proud to be able to display the California state championship flag.

It was quite an honor to have both Martinettes groups represent the state of New Jersey in the Lions Club international parade in San Francisco. The delegation was dismayed when they saw their representatives were kids but were astonished at the quality of their performance and overjoyed to take home the two huge first-place trophies. By the way, they were entered in the adult classification.

The Martinettes performed for a lot of functions, but their favorite was at the Shriners’ Crippled Children’s Hospital in San Francisco. The performance was on the lawn, and the kids watched through their windows.

Birth of the Blue Devils

Bill and Martha disbanded the corps after winning the state title in 1956. They turned it over to Tony Odello, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars became the sponsor. After losing the 1957 championship, they asked Bill to return to teaching the drummers, now the Blue Devils, which he did. They added glockenspiels, which Martha taught, allowing melodies to join the sound. The corps returned to winning the state titles.

The rest is more history, but the first Martinettes Girls Drill Team members are still entertaining friends and family with their stories.

Carol Longshore has been a Concord resident since 1950. She is a community leader and past president of the Concord Historical Society. Send comments and suggestions for future topics to