by:Frank Dorritie and Fran Haring
With seven national titles to their credit, the Sunrisers have put up some of the most
impressive statistics in senior drum corps.
Their fascinating early history is related by John Hodge, a member of the Sunriser Hall of
Fame: It began in 1950 at a Marine Corps League meeting in Lakeview, West Hempstead,
Long Island. Being gung-ho with still the Marine Corps blood in my veins from World War II
and anxious to promote youthful projects for my organization, I made a motion on the floor
at meeting to organize the Marines Memorial Drum Corps of Nassau County. Ed McAvoy, a
drummer, and Ed Ryan, bugle man, offered to assist me.
Our first instruments were purchased from the Hempstead Fire Department: four snare
drums, two bass, 15 G-bugles, cymbals, etc., for $140.00. But by 1953, it was too much for
the youngsters to handle. I started thinking big. I sent word out announcing the formation
of a senior corps. It wasnt long before my phone started ringing at home! Former
players from pre-war corps had moved to Long Island and wanted to be a part of this new
It was in the spring of 1953 when I first met Ray Nichols, a bugle instructor. We had
assembled a 12-man horn line, (including) Bill and Lillian Linde, Bob Staudt, Jack Grave,
Bill Butner, Ed Dingle, Ray Anderson and me. The new drum instructor was Herb Wier; bass
drum instructor was Harry Porfat, and bass drummer from an ancient fife corps, the one and
only Fred Rose.
New valve horns were purchased, as well as drums. New uniforms were designed by
Lillian Linde, Howard Larsen and me - made in Nassau County colors: orange, blue and white.
Ray Nichols had written some new French music. To honor this music, blue berets were the
new headgear for the corps.
One evening in 1954, while sitting home studying my baritone parts, I jumped up from
my chair to turn the radio up loud. What I heard was Les Paul and Mary Ford playing The
World is Waiting for the Sunrise. I grabbed my phone and called Ray Nichols.
Ray! I said, I have a terrific idea! How about a new name for the
Friday night (rehearsal) came. Out came the announcement. A great ovation came from
the members! The new theme came out of Rays briefcase. There was electricity
radiating through the entire corps when they started reading their parts. This is our song.
Wherever we played it, people knew that there was only one Sunrisers and that made us feel
Through the years 1954-1957 the Sunrisers became the most outstanding corps in the
Long Island area, being seen in many parades and exhibitions, competing in all standstill
competitions and winning all categories.
Early in 1957, the sponsorship changed to Massapequa Elks Lodge No. 2162. Fred Rose,
still manager of the Sunrisers, and Joseph Coppola Sr. of the Elks, had arranged the
Enter Cal Myers, drum instructor and former Skyliner member; Howard Healy; Bob
Hartman; Dick Vincemuth; and Henry Kunzweiler, from Hollis-Bellaire Drum Corps.
In 1958, the corps found a new expression: M&M. Now it became a whole new
ballgame. A new instructor was engaged to put the corps on the field - Jack Dobson from
Orangeburg, NY, a retired Navy man and police officer.
The management had signed us up in the Yankee Circuit and our first show was to be in
New Rochelle. Competing against us were the Interstatesmen, Jolly Whalers, Carver Gay
Blades, Westshoremen and Marksmen. That show was our baptism under fire!
The Marksmen won the show, Carver Gay Blades came in second, both were great! They
became our incentive to work harder. Our score was 58.20 - last place! After retreat, all
the corps came over to welcome us to the circuit. Consensus was, Theyre a nice
corps. We like their little French berets. (Hodge, The Sunrisers Anthology,
Vol. 1, p. 13-16.)
The story of the Sunrisers had always been the story of the music - what they played and
how they played it. The aforementioned French theme encouraged exotic
repertoire choices like Mademoiselle de Paree and Debussys Clare de Lune. But
whatever the music, understanding senior drum corps requires recognizing the sheer
intensity of a truly passionate performance.