The Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps was founded in 1972 by Canton businessman Art Drukenbrod and Canton Police officers "Babe" Stearn and Ralph McCauley, the director and assistant director of the Canton Police Boys' Club. The corps members chose the name both because of their sponsorship and to honor the city's police officers, particularly those who had retired from the ranks. The corps made its competition debut in 1974 and, in their first major show, finished thirty-second of thirty-seven corps in the U.S. Open Class A prelims in Marion, Ohio. The corps improved year by year, and began touring in both the U.S. and Canada and making U.S. Open finals in 1976, taking second place in 1977 and third in 1978. The Bluecoats made their first DCI appearance in Denver in 1977, scoring in thirty-fifth place among forty-five corps.
Although the corps was maturing musically, it was struggling to survive financially. 1979 saw the corps performing only in local parades, as it attempted to reorganize its financial situation. With the return to the field in 1980, the corps was competitive in Class A competitions but only managed a thirty-eighth-place finish of the forty-four corps performing in Open Class at the DCI World Championships in Birmingham, Alabama. In the next two seasons, the corps attempted to compete exclusively in Open Class, but they met with small success. In 1983, it was announced that the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps would cease operations.
At the time that the corps' folding was announced, present-day corps President Scott Swaldo was a marching member. When he told his father, Canton industrialist Ted Swaldo (now the corps' Director Emeritus), the elder Swaldo stated his determination to prevent it and stepped in to try to save the corps. One of Swaldo's first moves as corps director was to see that the organization was run like a business, a concept that has since been spread to numerous non-profit youth organizations around the country. With successful fund-raising projects and a solid business plan in place, the corps returned to the field after only a one-year hiatus. As a full-fledged Open Class corps the Bluecoats improved with each passing year until, in 1987, the corps became the first corps from Ohio to earn a place in the DCI World Championship finals, finishing in eleventh place. Since then, the corps has failed to make DCI Finals only once (1999), and the Bluecoats have become a consistent DCI contender.
In the early days the corps traveled in blue-painted surplus Army buses, then in used school buses, later moving up to used, but air-conditioned, motor coaches. At first, meals were served from a U-Haul trailer towed by a parent's car, later from a van, then a travel trailer, before the eventual acquisition of an eighteen-wheeled semi-trailer kitchen. Today the corps travels around the country during its summer tour in a convoy with chartered buses, an equipment truck, cook truck, souvenir trailer, and staff vehicles.
At the 2016 DCI World Championships, the Bluecoats won 1st place in World Class Finals, becoming only the tenth corps to be DCI Champions since the competition began in 1972. The winning show, "Down Side Up," earned the corps' highest DCI score of 97.65 while winning the General Effect and Music captions. For 2016, the Bluecoats abandoned their traditional uniforms in favor of a more informal costume designed with the show's near-constant motion in mind; the brass and percussion wore white and the color guard yellow, both with a swirling, sequined blue accent stripe running from the left hand to the shoulder, across the chest, and down the right leg; Bluecoats also became the first corps to win the DCI title while not wearing hats, helmets, shakos, or any other type of headgear.
The Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps is a 501 (c) (3) musical organization that has a Board of Directors, corps director, and staff assigned to carry out the organization's mission. The Director Emeritus is Ted Swaldo, the President is Scott Swaldo, the Executive Director is David Glasgow, and the Corps Manager is Bill Hamilton.
The Bluecoats organization also sponsors the Artistry IN BLUE Winter Guard and the Rhythm IN BLUE Alumni Ensemble. Additionally, the corps owns and operates the Champion Event Center, a community bingo, banquet and special events center in North Canton.
Gold background indicates DCI Championship; pale blue background indicates DCI Class Finalist; pale green background indicates DCI semifinalist.
At the Bluecoats first appearance at DCI Finals in 1987, their over-the-top arrangement of the Joseph Kosma-Johnny Mercer song Autumn Leaves, with a fifteen-member snare drum line brought forth the spontaneous long shouts from the audience of, "Bloooo... Blooooo... Blooooo..."– a crowd reaction that began with one fan at the Drum Corps Midwest prelims and was picked up by a large part of the crowd by the time DCM finals were over. This has since come to be the audience's traditional greeting as the corps enters the field and response as they finish their show, which has become perhaps the most recognizable act of audience participation in the drum corps activity. Newcomers to drum corps are often shocked by this unique reaction, until it is explained that, "They're not booing; they're blooing."
The Bluecoats' corps song is, as might be expected, "Autumn Leaves". The song has remained a part of the corps' repertoire since 1987, and has reappeared in their 1988 and 1998 shows. It can also frequently be heard being performed during impromptu parking lot concerts after competitions. The corps' first official song was "Bridge Over Troubled Water", by Simon and Garfunkel, which was a huge hit shortly before the corps was founded. It has been played at encores since the 2012 season, when it was brought back in honor of the corps' 40th anniversary. "Autumn Leaves" became the corps' song after the 1987 season, in honor of the corps making its first finals appearance.
Although there have been departures over the years, the Bluecoats were widely known for performing big band jazz arrangements of their musical programs. More recently the corps has created an identity based around innovation in electronic integration and creative design in DCI.
Like most drum corps, the Bluecoats hold an annual "home show" in Massillon, OH near their hometown. It has become a local tradition that the Bluecoats' home show is a part of the induction festivities for Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is located in Canton.
The Bluecoats have a tradition of giving each member a blue necklace made out of shoelace with silver-plated pennies attached with a link from the chin strap of a Bluecoats helmet. Each member gets one penny or equivalent currency from each nationality represented in the corps that season, each year that they march in the corps. Members also receive a nickel after marching their fifth year in the Bluecoats.