June 23, 2014 --
The Drum Major is one of the most visible members of the Marine Band. While he stands in front of the band, he wears a bearskin headpiece and carries a long wood and brass mace. The ornate sash worn across his chest, called a baldric, is embroidered with the Marine Band’s crest and the Marine Corps’ battle colors; it signifies his position as Drum Major of the Marine Corps.
In this uniform he is easily identified at countless high profile events in the Washington metropolitan region, including presidential inaugurations, state arrivals and funerals, Friday Evening Parades at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., and Marine Corps full honors funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. During the band’s storied past, only a select few have led the Marine Band in these events, and on June 26, Drum Major Master Gunnery Sgt. William L. Browne will pass the mace to his successor and retire after 25 years in the Marine Corps.
Drum Majors have been an integral part of the Marine Band since its inception. The early leadership of the Marine Band consisted of a Drum Major and a Fife Major. The Drum Major (the first being William Farr appointed in 1799) was considered the Leader of the Marine Band, and the Fife Major’s responsibility was to train the fifers. The Drum Major was also responsible for the Marine Band apprentices. In July 1861, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress to reorganize the Marine Band, which created the positions of Leader (who was the principal musician), Drum Major, and 30 musicians. The title of Fife Major was abolished that year, and in 1881 the fife was removed from Marine Corps instrumentation. Francis Scala, who was appointed Drum Major in 1855, became the first person to hold the official position of Leader/principal musician of the Marine Band, while John Roach was selected as Drum Major.
Today, the Drum Major serves as the senior enlisted member of “The President’s Own” and is responsible for the band’s ceremonial drill, appearance, and military decorum. He is charged with directing the band in ceremonial commitments including the inaugural parade and regularly leads the band in review for U.S. Presidents, heads of state, and international dignitaries. Browne is the 39th Drum Major of “The President’s Own” and has served in this capacity since 2007. He began his musical training on the trumpet at age 12 and in 1985, upon graduating from Fletcher Senior High School in Jacksonville, Fla., attended Florida State University in Tallahassee. Browne enlisted in the Marine Corps in September 1989. During his career, he has performed as a trumpet player with the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Band, Twentynine Palms, Calif., where he met his wife Shawna, also a former Marine Corps musician.
As a trumpet player in the Marine Corps, Browne’s fondest memories are of sounding “Taps” hundreds of times in many unique locations, including from the window of a van in 1992, as a corporal.
“I was waiting in the parking lot of the Twentynine Palms band building for the funeral rifle detail to pick me up,” recalls Browne. “They were about an hour late and I was getting worried. A white van flew into the parking lot and the driver, a sergeant, motioned for me to get in quickly. I did. He had already dropped the rifle detail off and explained that they had forgotten about the bugler. He raced back to get me, hoping I was still there and we were now flying to the cemetery. We were both sure we wouldn't make it. He explained they had already notified the family that ‘Taps’ wasn’t going to be sounded. As we approached the cemetery, I rolled down my window to see if I could hear anything. I heard rifle fire and knew it was the firing detail but didn't know if it was the first or last round shot. I quickly uncased my trumpet and aimed it out of the window. At this point we were driving into the parking lot, no one in sight. I heard another shot, and then the last shot. I played ‘Taps’ from the front seat of the van with everything I had, projecting the sound through the parking lot, over the building, and into the cemetery. The family and rifle detail later told me of the goose bumps and chills they all had upon hearing ‘Taps’ played with no apparent bugler there to do it.”
Browne had an extremely rewarding tenure as an instrumentalist in the Marine Corps, but he was looking to take the next step in his military career. “By my fifth year in the Marine Corps, I knew I wanted to explore being a drum major,” he explained. “I was attracted to the unique relationship that a drum major has with each member of the ensemble.”
Browne served as assistant drum major in the 2nd Marine Division Band, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; the NATO Band, Naples, Italy; and the 1st Marine Division Band, Camp Pendleton, Calif. It was in Naples where Browne participated in numerous multinational ceremonies, was the lead singer in the rock band, and found his passion for competitive cycling. While stationed in Italy he represented the Marine Corps on the U.S. Armed Forces Cycling Team during the Military World Games in Zagreb, Croatia. Also during his tenure with the NATO Band, Browne developed relationships with Generals James L. Jones and James F. Amos. Unbeknownst to Browne, he would perform for these gentlemen years later at Marine Barracks Washington during their tenures as Commandant of the Marine Corps.
In 2001 Browne won the audition to be the Assistant Drum Major of the Marine Band and served under Drum Major Master Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Kohl, USMC (Ret.). At the end of his rotation in 2004, he was appointed the Marine Band supply chief and his Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) became 5511 (Member, United States Marine Band). Upon Kohl’s retirement, Browne auditioned and became the band’s Drum Major in August 2007. Since becoming Drum Major, Browne has participated in more than 300 full honors funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, 60 Friday Evening Parades at Marine Barracks Washington, more than 60 patriotic openers, two inaugural parades, and the state arrival for President François Hollande of France. But the most memorable moment of his career came during one of the well-known dinners held in Washington, D.C., each year.
In 2008, Browne was scheduled to lead the band in a patriotic opener at the White House Correspondents Dinner. But the program was not going to follow the typical format. President George W. Bush was slated to make a surprise appearance and conduct the Marine Band performing John Philip Sousa’s march “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
“My most memorable moment with the band was the rehearsal for this event at the White House,” recalls Browne. “I will never forget discussing with the President how I would turn over the formation to him. It was an amazing experience from beginning to end.” While Browne’s illustrious Marine Corps career is winding down, another Marine will embark on a new adventure that has some familiarity. Gunnery Sgt. Duane F. King reported to the Marine Band in April, but like several of his predecessors, this is not the first time he’s been stationed at the “Oldest Post of the Corps.” He served as the Assistant Drum Major of the Marine Band from September 2009 to June 2013.
King, like Browne, hails from Jacksonville and interestingly they shared a trumpet teacher; both Marines studied with Dr. Dale Blackwell of Florida State College at Jacksonville. King enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and attended recruit training in December 1994. Upon completion, he received orders to attend the Basic Music Course at the Armed Forces School of Music in Norfolk and then was transferred to the Marine Corps Forces Reserve Band, New Orleans, La., where he served as a trumpet player and administrative assistant. In 2000, he received orders to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Band, Twentynine Palms, where he served as trumpet player, vocalist, administrative chief, squad leader, and assistant drum major. In January 2002 he received orders to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Band, Parris Island, S.C. In June 2005, he received orders back to New Orleans and in 2007 he became the band’s acting Enlisted Conductor and was selected for Drum Major in 2008. After serving as the Assistant Drum Major for “The President’s Own” he received orders to return to New Orleans as the Drum Major in 2013.
The audition for the Marine Band’s Drum Major position was held in February and applicants were required to have the following qualifications: Marine Corps Drum Major MOS 5521, rank of gunnery sergeant or above, and at least 16 years cumulative service. The two-day event included many rigorous components.
“The extremely competitive audition process is in four phases and designed to select the staff non-commissioned officer (SNCO) who demonstrates excellence in the following categories: musicianship, leadership, military presence, personal appearance, and ceremonial acumen,” explains Executive Assistant to the Director (and former Drum Major) Major John R. Barclay. “Prior to being advanced to the final round of the audition here in Washington, candidates submitted resumes and video recordings of their ceremonial marching and conducting. Once here, all candidates led the band through a ceremonial marching sequence, conducted the band in a concert setting, and appeared before a board of senior SNCOs and officers.”
King was selected from four candidates and reported to the Marine Band in time to lead the band, along with Assistant Drum Major Staff Sgt. Steven Williams, during the 2014 parade season.
“I am humbled by my selection as the 40th Drum Major for ‘The President’s Own,’” said King. “It was a great honor to serve with such consummate professionals on a daily basis as assistant drum major. Working with the Marines at the ‘Oldest Post’ was exciting and I’m looking forward to returning.”
On June 26 at 5 p.m., in John Philip Sousa Band Hall, Drum Major Browne will continue a Marine Band tradition and pass the mace to Gunnery Sgt. King. Marine Band Director Colonel Michael J. Colburn will officiate the ceremony. Immediately following the relief and appointment, Browne’s retirement ceremony will be officiated by General James F. Amos, 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps. Both events are private and by invitation only.