Feeling the Music: The River City Drum Corps.

River City Drum Corps.

The Boiled Down Juice explores concepts of community tradition, community action, and creative living, among many other things. You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for reading! 

Last week we posted about the Kentucky Community Scholars Reunion and mentioned Ed White and the River City Drum Corps. We’ve had the chance to see the Drum Corps in a few different settings over the years, and each time their performance is amazing and chill-inducing.  It’s impossible to listen to the corp without dancing, and you can literally feel the drums resonating throughout your body.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the group is the intergenerational nature of the program and the way in which youth engage in democratic leadership.

Founded in 1990 by Ed “Nardie” White, the River City Drum Corps is a youth-based cultural arts program that brings together traditional African drumming, drum making, and drum line performance and leadership. When youth enter the program, long before they ever perform in the drum line, they first learn how to make their own drum out of found materials, most often sewer pipe. Called “pipe drums,” these introductory drums teach youth how the instrument resonates, giving them a sense of the very foundation of its power.

The core premise of the organization is apprenticeships—”not just about African drumming, but also about the skills needed for personal, academic, and social success.” Youth take care of everything from the Corp’s accounting to scheduling. Quite often members of the group go on to play in college based drum lines.  The corp’s performances are always led by a former corps member.  Currently the leader is Stacy Penleton (see below).

Founder Ed White speaking with Mark Brown about the program.

At the recent Kentucky Community Scholars gathering, Ed White spoke about the program’s beginnings, recalling how he never imagined the organization would be around for so long, inspiring countless generations of young people. He spoke about the timeless and geographically-boundless rhythms the corps plays and how some of these same rhythms can be found in many regions in Africa, brought to the United States during the slave trade.

He also spoke about how the corps helps to break down stereotypes about urban African American youth and how the group’s travels to areas in Appalachia has led him to rethink stereotypes about rural white southerners.  Several years ago at the Kentucky Folklife Festival I heard Ed White speak about the drums as a heartbeat, a connection to beginnings of creation and an African ancestry. As he mentioned multiple times, drum corps music is something to be felt more so than heard.

Here are some recent images from the Drum Corps in Frankfort.  Also included is a few videos we found online.  All images by the Kentucky Folklife Program and used with permission. To contact Ed White and the Corp, click here.  Read on to see videos and more photos.


Photo by Steve Grauberger.


Current youth-based leader of the drum corp, Stacy Pendleton.


River City Drum Corp 2009.



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