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Black Star Drum Line taps into drum corps history

Playing in Black Star Drum Line demands exacting precision. So it’s precise to say that the history of this youth percussion group goes back to the 1970s — decades before the members of Black Star Drum Line were even born.

“I know it’s going to sound weird,” said Black Star founder and director Joey B. Banks, “but it really started in 1976.”

That was the year Banks’ grandmother signed him up for the Madison Scouts drum and bugle corps. Banks was 9 at the time.

“That’s really the inspiration for me putting the (Black Star Drum Line) together — because I had the opportunity at 9 years old to be part of the Madison Scouts organization and to march and play a drum, and travel all over the country,” he recalled. “I did it for 11 years.”

Today, Banks is a Grammy-nominated drummer who teaches and performs with Steely Dane, the Big Payback and others. The Madison Area Music Awards named him 2014 Drummer/Percussionist of the Year.

He runs Black Star Drum Line as a volunteer and personally helps pay for its travel. The group has a busy performing schedule, with upcoming local performances at Kids in the Rotunda Saturday at Overture Center and the Kids Rock! benefit at High Noon Saloon on Feb. 7.

The group is made up of 20 boys and girls ages 9-19. Several have been with Black Star since its founding in 2008, and are now high school juniors.

That includes Cheyenne Crowell-Moat, an 11th grader at La Follette High School. She first got involved with Black Star Drum Line for the music and has stayed for the friendships, she said.

“I love music and I love drumming,” said Crowell-Moat, who hopes to study music as well as business, photography and creative writing in college. “We’re not just a group, we’re a family.”

Banks was inspired to found Black Star Drum Line after a 2006 reunion brought together past and present Madison Scouts, he said. (The group came together again last fall to march in the prestigious Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.)

It soon became Banks’ goal to create that kind of musical training — and lifelong camaraderie — for others.

By 2008, he was putting together a drum program at the Allied Boys’ and Girls’ Club, first as a volunteer and then as a part-time staff member. Over time, that grew into programs in 16 different creative and performing arts at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club Allied and Taft sites.

He left that program late last year and made Black Star Drum Line an independent performance group.

“We’re doing lots and lots of shows, and we’re branching out,” he said.

Last year the group performed for the first time at Milwaukee’s Summerfest and in 2012 played before 25,000 people at Lifest in Appleton. That leads to a high level of professionalism among Black Star’s young musicians.

“I’m giving them a very high skill-set for percussion,” Banks said. “It’s very disciplined, it takes a lot of focus, it takes a lot of concentration — things that really help them with a lot of other things in their lives. It’s very demanding physically.”

Banks hopes the group will grow and develop into a full-fledged drum corps.

“When I was a kid, there were four drum corps in Madison,” including the Scouts, which now train in Indiana.

“It’s a pretty awesome brotherhood that I grew up in, and that molded and shaped me as a professional musician,” he said. “The drum line is really an opportunity for another generation of kids to have the same opportunities I had growing up in Madison.”

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