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The History of The VIP’s Winter Color Guard

The VIP Drum and Bugle Corps included a Color Guard of 30 enthusiastic girls. They carried flags, rifles and sabers while participating in parades. Some highlighted events consisted of performances in Washington, D.C. for the Mayor and the Archbishop Delegate to the United States at a red carpet event for a movie premiere.

Within a year of establishing the VIP's Drum and Bugle Corp, 13 girls were carefully selected from the Color guard based on their merit and competitive spirit, to form a competitive Winter Color.  The VIP Winter Color guard was organized in January, 1966. Before the Winter guard entered their first competition, the leadership of the VIP Drum and Bugle Corps required the guard instructor to change the name of the competitive winter guard to avoid embarrassing the VIP organization. Therefore, the color guard instructor changed the winter guard name to the Viscounts. 

After a year of competing and winning as the Viscounts the winter guard was renamed the VIP’s Winter Color Guard. They continued to participate in competitions held in armories, gymnasiums, VFW halls, and arenas in numerous states.  Much to the surprise of the Corps leadership and members of the Drum Corps the winter color guard became a superior Color Guard that was admired, respected and feared throughout the circuit.

These young girls displayed a mental and physical toughness when they endured long grueling practices which consisted of military maneuvers never done, nor attempted by any other Competitive Color Guard. Their mental toughness was tested at every competition (not only because of their style of marching and maneuvering), but also because they were an “ALL BLACK“ Color Guard, competing in a Color Guard Circuit that was predominately “WHITE” during the civil rights era. 

Despite the color guard’s determination, hard work, and creative drill routine, this “all black” color guard endured  discrimination. Some examples of the threats to disqualify the guard included: (1) their military style maneuvers; (2) the length of their skirts; (3) their salute looked like a black power salute; or (4) their rifles and soles of their boots could tear up a gym floor; (5) wind-up toys thrown on the competition floor by the audience to cause the guard members to trip or fall. The audience was never admonished.  The judges were afraid of change and found unjustified ways to discredit the winter guard's creative performances. The winter guard's “white” instructor continued to protest their decisions until he persevered.

The winter guard’s trademark of D&MB (Dignity and Military Bearing), precision, and difficulty was on display throughout their drill routines. Furthermore, the spectacular visual effects of rifles, sabers and flag poles being tossed in the air showed the true “AH!” effect in a drill maneuver. These daredevil maneuvers performed during parts of the drill prompted the winter guard to be labeled the “Suicide Squad”.  

Witnessing the winter guard’s drilling maneuvers was a thing of beauty. The audience always wondered how they executed their maneuvers since the only cadence they had was the voice cadence of their commander. Using voice commands was unlike the other competing color guards that used drums or music.  The professionalism, as well as the excitement of the show drew many followers to see what new maneuvers would be displayed.  The VIP’s Winter Color Guard stood apart from all the other Color Guards.

Color Guards
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The instructor for the VIP color guard was John Brazale, who was the former Drum Major of the Spectacle City Mariners Drum and Bugle Corp of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At the time of the formation of the VIP's Color Guard, he was stationed at Fort McNair in Southwest Washington, DC, John was assigned as a member of the Presidential Honor Guard. Although, he was inexperienced as a color guard instructor, he was hired based on his background as a drum major and a Presidential Honor Guard.


He was hired, not only to create drills for the full color guard, but to organize and manage a competitive winter guard. He gained notoriety based on the success of the VIP winter guard. John was the only color guard instructor the VIPs ever had. In 1994, John Brazale was inducted into the Drum Corp Hall of Fame.

The VIP Winter Color Guard established a reputation as winners in the Eastern States, Maryland States, and Atlantic States color guard competitions.


The members of the Winter Color Guard were:

  • Judy Green Dowtin (Commander 1966-69) 

  • Shirley Curtis Lathern (Commander 1969-71) 

  • Susanne Swayne Catlett Taylor (Co-Commander 1969-1970)

  • Debra Tidwell Peters (Rifle)

  • Sharon Butts Boyd (Flag)          

  • Judy Jones Carter (Rifle)

  • Patricia Culbreath (Flag)         

  • Mary Gibson (Rifle)

  • Delores Jones Dorsey (Rifle)            

  • Jewel Norman (Rifle)

  • Brenda Billingsley (Flag)             

  • Linda Scott (Rifle) (Flag)

  • Marlene Adams (American Flag)   

  • Cathy Jones (Flag)           

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