Blue Notes mark milestone

Members of the Blue Notes Drum and Bugle Corps march in Ishpeming's Fourth of July Parade. (Journal Photo by Shannon Stieg)

ISHPEMING — The big, bold sounds of the Blue Notes Drum and Bugle Corps are as much a tradition in the city of Ishpeming as the Fourth of July parade itself.

The 55-member organization, with musicians ranging in age from 14 to 70, is preparing to celebrate its 60th anniversary with a “Sound of Summer” event series.

Founded on Halloween night in 1957 by Joe Mayrand and Jim Medlyn, the Blue Notes was then an all-boy junior corps that first performed in local parades in the summer of 1958.

Over the next few years, with strong support from parents, Ishpeming residents and the sponsorship of American Legion Post 58, money was raised to purchase equipment and uniforms, and girls were integrated into the group.

The Blue Notes soon grew into a competitive drum and bugle corps competing in contests across the Midwest and Canada winning numerous titles over the course of the next 20 years — including nine state championships, according to an organization press release.

Despite the competitive success of the group, the Blue Notes disbanded for seven years starting in 1977 due to dwindling membership.

A resurgence of the corps occurred in 1984 when a group of alumni, ranging in age from 20 to 30 years old, reunited to march in the city of Ishpeming’s centennial celebration on the Fourth of July that year, the release stated. The group received an enthusiastic reception from local parade-goers.

“Overjoyed with the reappearance of the Blue Notes; their clapping and cheering was continuous throughout the entire parade route,” the release stated.

Building on that enthusiasm, the Blue Notes reinvented themselves again, according to the release.

The alumni traveled across the Upper Peninsula to participate in events and began recruiting alumni from other drum and bugle corps organizations as well.

“Today, the Blue Notes Drum and Bugle Corps has members from across Michigan’s U.P., including the communities of Ishpeming, Negaunee, Marquette, Ontonagon and Kingsford as well as Hurley, Wisconsin,” according to the release.

Blue Notes president Rita Thibeault said she expects at least 250 members and alumni to participate in the reunion activities in some way.

Thibeault said the organization is an important part of not just Ishpeming but U.P. traditions.

“It is certainly a long-standing, honored, cherished tradition in the community,” Thibeault said. “But I feel that especially in this day and age — with so much negative stuff going on — to lift people’s spirits even for a short period of time makes a difference — it’s worth it.”

Thibeault said the key to maintaining a strong core group is finding new members.

“We’re always recruiting. We are really getting into a bind in terms of parades,” Thibeault said. “We got into a bind when a few of our strongest members who have been with us the longest weren’t physically able to march this year. We have been successful in recruiting high school students, but we invite anyone who has had experience playing an instrument to give it a try.”

The “Sound of Summer” schedule of events is as follows:


– Noon: Members and alumni will gather to decorate the Ishpeming VFW hall for the reunion party; anyone with memorabilia should bring it to the hall at that time.

– 2 p.m.: Alumni and current member gathering at the Ishpeming playgrounds for the “Just For Fun” march. Public is invited to cheer on the “Big Blue.”

– 2:45 p.m.: Full corps rehearsal for “Old Ish” Concert, Ishpeming playgrounds.

– 7 p.m. to midnight: 60th Anniversary Reunion Party, Ishpeming VFW. Admission is $10 per person at the door, food will be provided.


– 6:30 p.m.: Blue Notes and alumni meet at the top of the Main Street hill for annual “Old Ish” Concert. All participants should wear 60th anniversary shirts.

– 7:30 p.m.: “Old Ish” Concert in Downtown Ishpeming.


– 9:30 a.m.: Alumni and current members meet at Michigan Street between Second and Third streets in Ishpeming to organize for the parade which will start at 10:30 a.m.

Updated schedule information can be found on the Blue Notes Facebook page.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is