The Monroe Girls Drum & Bugle Corps
Joan Peters • 1954 VFW National Snare Drum Champion
Records indicated a female won VFW Nationals two years before Rita Macy wn in 1956, beating her boyfriend from St. Vincents Cadets at that time who took second. No one even had a name for the corps. Who were the Monroe Girls? I called their old VFW sponsor post. They had no clue. One question led to another after a snippet on "corps from Georgia" appeared somewhere and I was invited to meet the Monroe Girls and 1954 National Champion Joan Peters (pronounced Jo-Ann)
Monroe was an all-girl drum & bugle corps patterned after the famous Audabon Bon-Bons from Audabon New Jersey. Audabon had a huge drumming history with Bill Reamer instructing the drumline to national prominence and Rita Macy winning the 1956 individual VFW title. (Competitors of hers said she had "excellent rolls"). The Bon Bons were half a tenth away from a national title drum judges were telling anyone who would listen, "They might be girls but do you realize what they're playing out there? Monroe also had a street beat called the "Bon Bon 7". Monroe seemed to have been run with more discipline than most field competition corps practicing 6 days a week and getting demerits if "messing up." There are movies of Monroe's performance in the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade on the Internet. Their parade show is designed for the street, not the field.
Kelson Hearn, a local VFW member saw the Bon Bons in an Atlanta American Legion Parade and thought a similar unit would be a good idea. The Monroe Girls began in 1949 under the direction of Wayne Shields with support from VFW Post 4421. Girls in grades 6 to 12 auditioned for the opportunity to perform with the corps. They practiced 51 weeks per year. They were a parade corps, not a field competition unit. However, the pictures of their marching and videos of their Macy's Parade performance shows the unit to be highly trained. They beat Garfield, Madison and many others to win The New York City Lions Parade. (and won the drum caption).
Monroe's most famous performance had to be the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1959. These ladies could march. The photos of this unit shows impeccable marching and uniformity. You can see the fife and drum Sturtze, Reamer influence in the flat right hand and lower drum corps slinging angle of that time period.
Joan Peters (Jo-Ann) beat some of the best snare drummers of the time.... the guys from Boston Crusaders and Blessed Sacrament. This was the year the Golden Knights destroyed the drum field at finals winning the caption by an unheard of 1.5 points after learning the ways of Sons of Liberty technique via Bobby Thompson. After their victory, the Moeller Technique went extinct in United States drum & bugle corps.
I had the opportunity to meet Joan in Monroe, Georgia. Her history was fair and square. I know what it is to go through the practice regimen for high level individual contests. She knew the ropes. Someone had taught her how to breakdown properly. Her DNA was set to win. She practiced very hard for many months. Her solo was written out having the difficulty of the day with drags, ratamacues, 24th note singes and paradidddles. It is written out in the corps scrapbook. Champion drummers are perfectionists. The guys had no idea a girl from a parade corps had outworked them. She stated she went over and over her solo. She was first on at 6:30am. No one bothered to see her perform and she never saw the others from the big corps. The Judging team of Doxstator and Sturtze set a very low tolerance with her 79.5 winning. Usually something around a 90 won. They may have used a point per error tolerance because all the scores were low. The Blessed Sacrament Quartet took second to the Warren Military Band. Penalties? Execution? We may never know........
Bill Bernert (Audabon): “In Archer Epler there were four snares in 1954. You had John Dowlan, Reamer and Jack Corey, the guy who beat Redican once. They won Philly nationals at the VFW. It was a time when Blessed Sacrament - Bobby Thompson’s line – came out of nowhere in 1954.”
William Curlott (10th in1954 VFW Snare Individuals): “The 1954 contest was when they went from the open style to fast bounce. I got trounced. [I] didn’t practice as I should have for it. Had some beer the night before. I remember a girl winning by the name of Joan Peters. That deflated my ego even more. Came in 10th and a girl beat me!”