A Brief History of “Big Blue”
By Colleen Devitt Karuza

The Chicago Royal Airs Drum & Bugle Corps, affectionately called “Big Blue” by its fans, was established in the “Windy City” in 1958 and became dubbed (and later revered) as the “best drum corps ever.” In 1958, Corps membership was made up of “Chicago’s finest” – neighborhood kids with grit, gumption and plenty of heart. Given the chance – a chance later provided by local businessman and Chicago Royal Airs founder Sie Lurye – these kids could be taught, by inspired example, to embrace the ideals of faith, honor and humility and forge a corps of champions, both on and off the field.

Corps members were proud to be ambassadors for Chicago, and they once performed, at the request of the late Mayor Richard M. Daley, for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Remembrances of the 1958 fire at Our Lady of Angels parochial school on Chicago’s Northwest side still smolder in the minds and hearts of Chicagoans. The Chicago Royal Airs lost three of its members in that fire. Even today, the Corps makes annual pilgrimages to the gravesites of deceased members because “once a Royal Air, always a Royal Air.”

In 10 short years, the Chicago Royal Airs helped usher in a new era in drum & bugle corps activity. Thanks to “Big Blue”, music, marching and maneuvers would evolve into something entertaining and exciting. This bold departure from the old ways paid off in 1965 when the Chicago Royal Airs became the only junior drum corps to ever garner the “triple crown” of national competition (American Legion, CYO, VFW) in a single season.

The brothers and sisters of the Chicago Royal Airs family are, as they like to say, “connected at the soul.” At no time was this more evident than when they reunited in 2002 after a 34-year hiatus to honor their founder and father figure Sie Lurye, who was inducted posthumously in 2002 into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame. The momentum continued into 2003, as members dedicated their second reunion season to their longtime musical director/arranger, retired USMC Colonel Truman Crawford, who passed away in March 2003.

In 2004, the Chicago Royal Airs, for the pure fun of it, returned to the field, this time as a senior exhibition corps. Music Director and Brass Arranger John Zimny delivered a refreshingly innovative repertoire that featured “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and All Things Blue,” which recalled for many of its long-time fans the Corps’ early moniker of “The Bridesmaid Corps” – evoking its string of second-place finishes in the early 1960s.

Returning to both the roots and rudiments of drum corps sponsorship, the Chicago Royal Airs Drum & Bugle Corps is currently sponsored by VFW Post 2801 in Villa Park, Illinois. This is the first time in nearly three decades that a post has sponsored a drum corps. Collectively, the corps membership boasts over 3,000 years of drum corps activity, and nearly every competitive junior drum and bugle corps from the 1950s and 1960s is represented. The corps is committed to excellence and innovation through hard work, and its ultimate goal is to put the nation’s largest senior exhibition corps on the field.

About the Flags the Corps Carries:

The “Logo” Flag: Dubbed “The Logo Flag” by creator Bruce Borck, the 3’ x 5’ banner bears the logos of the 52 drum & bugle corps, two color guards, and one drum & twirling corps represented by the membership of the Chicago Royal Airs.

USAF and USMC Flags: The Chicago Royal Airs Drum & Bugle Corps also carries the flags of the United States Marine Corps and United States Air Force in Truman Crawford’s honor. Crawford served as musical director and arranger for the drum corps of both of these military branches. The Royal Airs leadership received special permission in 2003 from the U.S. Pentagon to permanently carry these flags in their shows.

Our Lady of Angels Flag: In 1958, three members of the Royal Airs – Frances Guzaldo, Valerie Thoma and Roger Ramlow – perished in the fire at Our Lady of Angels parochial school in Chicago. Subsequently, the corps has dedicated each performance to the memory of the “family members” they lost, and to this day, the color guard still carries the Our Lady ofAngels flag, spangled with over 90 stars – one for each victim. From 1958 until the present, the corps has made annual pilgrimages to the Queen of Heaven Cemetery to remember their “blue angels.”