The Star Steppers are yet another popular youth majorette program, and the drummers they marched with this year in the Southern Heritage Classic parade were the famous Baby Blues, who are probably Memphis’ best-known and most well-travelled youth drumline.
Drums and drumming have played a tremendous role in the cultural life of Memphis’ inner-city Black communities, throughout most of the 20th and 21st century. The popularity of drumlines in urban Black neighborhoods is of uncertain origin, but probably derives from Blacks serving as drummers in the US Army during the Civil War and in state militia units afterwards, the use of drums by fraternal organizations such as the Independent Pole Bearers Society, and possibly even rural fife-and-drum bands associated with Labor Day, Juneteenth and the Fourth of July. What is certain is that by 1969, Memphis had begun having events called majorette jamborees, at which a squad of female majorettes performed dance routines to beats provided by a squad of young male drummers. Originally sponsored by schools, drumlines were soon organized by community organizations and community centers as well, and the drumming and dancing traditions of inner city Memphis were immensely popular until the late 1980’s or so, but unfortunately there has been a decline in the popularity of drumlines in Memphis over the last 20 years, as majorette groups have learned that they can design their routines to compact discs. So it is entirely appropriate that drumlines like the Baby Blues are highlighted at the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival, since this is another Memphis cultural tradition that is endangered. The Baby Blues are one of the last remaining Memphis drumlines that is not affiliated with any school, and is one of the city’s best, easily rivaling drumlines whose members are much older. They frequently appear in unexpected places, like Church Park during Africa in April, or Clarksdale during the Juke Joint Fest, and they always draw a crowd.
The Baby Blue drumline members at rest, Cooper-Young Festival, Memphis TN, 9/15/12
The Baby Blues drumline is an amazing group of immensely-talented young drummers that randomly show up from time to time at festivals and events in Memphis and elsewhere in the Mid-South. Unexpectedly, they appeared at the Cooper-Young Festival on Saturday, 9/15/12
The Baby Blues drumline was still on Desoto Avenue when I walked back downtown, with a large crowd gathered around as they played cadences. The funk beats brought competitive dancers out of the crowd into the circle, where they faced off against each other, Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale MS, 4/14/12
Baby Blues drumline, Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale, MS April 14, 2012
The Baby Blue drumline performing on Delta Avenue, Clarksdale, MS, Juke Joint Festival, April 14, 2012
The Baby Blues Drum Line is comprised of young Memphis drummers who are amazingly talented for their young age. They frequently appear at Memphis events, but it was unexpected to encounter them at Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale. Wherever they go, they always attract a crowd.