The beat. The rhythm. The backbone. That’s what a drummer provides, with or without other musicians. And in the hands of a group of young people drumming, there’s a depth of both structure and feeling that belies their age. This is music felt to the core. And this is what River City Drum Corp Cultural Arts Institute provides for kids from ages 6 to 18.
River City Drum Corp, RCDC, empowers young people through the spirit of the drum. Founded in 1992 by Edward “Nardie” White, RCDC was originally part of the Parkland Boys & Girls Club in West Louisville. Now, River City Drum Corp is a nonprofit organization on its own.
Jerome Baker is the associate director of River City Drum Corp and one of the original members. He started with RCDC when it was at Parkland and stayed until the group left there, shortly after he left for college in 1998. Jerome remembers Boys & Girls Clubs of America as being an integral part of his childhood. “It’s one of the places kids can go and receive cultural enrichment and sports enrichment,” he said of Parkland Boys & Girls Clubs of Kentuckiana.
“Our mission-based work is to enhance the lives of our students and the development of African-American families with children through education, arts, and culture,” Jerome said. “That’s a fancy way of saying we use the drums to grab in the kids, and from there we use education and the arts and our culture to empower the kids to reach their full potential.”
Most of the young participants spend 5 to 7 years with the River City Drum Corp. “Some stay longer when they join younger, and make it their home,” Jerome said.
RCDC has three different musical ensembles for students. One features a handmade pipe drum that loosely resembles the West African djembe drum. “Every student that enters the program, usually once a year, has an opportunity to build their own drum and add to the collection,” Jerome said.
From there, the young musicians transition to two other ensembles, the Spirit of the Drum Drumline and the Percussion Ensemble. The coveted Spirit of the Drum is a squad drumline, where the students play drums in marching band style. Their performances are based off the entertaining and very popular drum squads found at HBCU, Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The last music ensemble at RCDC is the Percussion Ensemble. In this program, students learn the fundamentals, as well as advanced techniques, on a variety of instruments, from marimbas to the trap drum set and the vibraphone and xylophone. They are performing musical pieces by artists such as Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis, and a little hip-hop in the mix with the Fugees.
The documentary “River City Drumbeat” (www.rivercitydrumbeatmovie.com) had its world premiere in November 2019 at a film festival in New York City and is streaming online and at film festivals across the country this year. The movie tells the story of the creative community that is River City Drumbeat, spotlighting founder Nardie White and the current executive director, Albert Shumake.
In September of 2020, River City Drum Corp participated in the Community Foundation of Louisville’s “Give for Good” campaign, for the first time ever. Setting a goal of $15,000, generous donors supported Drum Corp with $16,020 in donations.
Our mission-based work is to enhance the lives of our students and the development of African-American families with children through education, arts, and culture. That’s a fancy way of saying we use the drums to grab in the kids, and from there we use education and the arts and our culture to empower the kids to reach their full potential.
– Jerome Baker
Follow River City Drum Corp on Facebook @RCDCky and online at rivercitydrumcorpky.com, where donations are graciously accepted 24/7.