Will somebody tell me please what has happened to drum majorettes?
I’m talking about the high-stepping, baton-twirling girls who once led everyone’s high school band.
When did they become obsolete? And why?
Our school, in rural southwestern Minnesota, had a squad of four majorettes who performed in local parades and during the shows the band put on during football game halftimes.
When I was a grade-school kid, they thrilled me to no end. Tossing a baton way high while marching, then catching it without a hitch, was — OH, BOY! — cool.
It was especially so when the band was playing a stirring Sousa march, like The Stars and Stripes Forever, with its piccolo solo and trills, and high, then low, notes.
Dressed to thrill
And then there were the uniforms. They were always colorful and shiny. They took my breath away.
“I had a big white fur hat and white boots,” said my longtime friend, Maripat, of her majorette uniform of the 1950s. “The batons then were quite heavy (now they’re much lighter). Our uniforms were satin, and uncomfortably hot, but so beautiful.”
I loved the whole majorette outfit, but the white boots always got me.
They were the same style — short with a tassel in front — worn by cowgirls in the cowboy movies of the day. (Roy Rogers’ girlfriend, Dale Evans, comes to mind.) I longed for a pair, but girls my age were relegated to saddle shoes.
Male drum majors have been leading bands since the late 1800s. But legend has it that majorettes came into being in 1927 when Ed Clark of Elkhart, Indiana, made a baton out of a pool cue for his daughter Katie Clark to twirl with the Elkhart High School band.
Yet, for the past several decades, whenever I’ve seen a parade in the Midwest, majorettes aren’t leading any bands, not just high school. (The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV showed a few who were from southern states, such as Texas and Georgia.)
Girls with flags
Majorettes seem to have been replaced by flag spinners, usually a large group of girls dressed in short sequined outfits, flourishing flags of various colors.
But there’s just no comparison. Majorettes were unique. Their dash and excitement is lost with the flags. Strutting ahead, setting the pace, with batons flying in the air, and show-off stunts, like rolling batons around their necks and elbows, provided the necessary snappy touch.
Actually, the entire bit of pageantry of uniformed, brass-buttoned, plumed-hat band musicians and majorettes performing together generated the most vibrant colors of the day in any parade.
Baton twirling, by itself, has developed into a serious international sport. Twirlers are trained as athletes in gymnastics and dancing. They pursue their skill in competition, and earn medals by performing tricky maneuvers such as handling two or three batons at a time, or one baton while doing splits, backbends or cartwheels.
This still doesn’t explain why majorettes are absent from high school bands. I say bring them back! The world could stand a few more OH BOY! moments.
Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.