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Nineteen hundred, forty-six; It seems like eons back in time, and in so many ways it was. 

What was life in the United States like in 1946? Just to help put things into perspective, there were then only 48 states. Harry S. Truman (the “S” didn’t stand for anything), was the president. People listened to Amos and Andy, and Ozzie and Harriet on the radio; The advent of actual television programming still a year or two away. You could buy a house for well under $10,000, and the price tag on a new Chevrolet was about $900. Many of the things we all own and take for granted these days such as computers, cloths, dryers, dishwashers, and microwave ovens, were non-existent in 1946.

The first crude Rock&Roll was still nearly 10 years off. The population of the United States was about 140,000,000; roughly half of what it is today.

There were no Big Mac’s, no Corvettes, no Dallas Cowboys. Certainly life was simpler, and in so many ways vastly different… but, there were the Hawthorne Caballeros.

As incredible as the story of the Caballeros might be, however, it is not so much the story of a drum and bugle corps as it is the story of one man: James J. Costello, Jr., and his half century dedication to a single purpose.

Born in Paterson, NJ on February 20th, 1921, Jim grew up in a drum corps family. His father, James Sr., was a member of the Pellington Post corps and the East Orange Post before joining the St. George Cadets in Paterson. At the age of eleven, Jim Jr. Joined the St. George Cadets as a drummer, and continued to play with that corps until entering the Navy in 1942. Serving as a fire control-man, Jim learned the electrical trade, the skill that would be his livelihood once back in civilian life.

The Second World War ended in August 1945, and Jim, along with nearly twelve million other servicemen, returned home to take up life where they had left off; to start a career, to get married, to buy a house, and to raise a family. The idea of forming a senior drum & bugle corps, for most, was well down on the list of priorities, but there were those who remembered the fun, thrills, and camaraderie of being in a drum corps, and it was still very much in their blood.

The Original Caballeros in 1946 - still in service uniformsOn March 20th, 1946, the Caballeros were officially organized by a small group of recent veterans, former members of the St. George Cadets, including Jim Costello, his brother Bob, John McAuliffe (later to become Jim Costello’s brother-in-law), Joe Scarber, and George Hayek. A few short weeks later, the corps made its first appearance.

If you had been in Bayonne, New Jersey on that morning in May, 1946, and had walked up to Jim Costello, a twenty-five year old drummer getting ready to march in the Memorial Day parade, and told him that in 1996, fifty years from then, he would still be the director of this drum & bugle corps, and that for the next half century it would be the most famous and successful senior corps of all time, he would undoubtedly have told you that you were crazy! But, of course, that is exactly what happened. The men that marched in the Memorial Day parade that inaugural year, dressed in various military uniforms, just wanted to get back into playing in a drum corps, but to a man, there were no aspirations whatsoever of becoming internationally famous.

A primary goal of the newly formed corps was to be different from all the others. The concept of Latin, or Spanish style uniform was agreed upon and the corps appeared for the first time in the now familiar Caballero uniform competing in their first field competition in Trenton, New Jersey on July 20th, 1947.

Jim Costello’s father, the late James Sr. Was largely responsible for the design. He had seen a small corps in San Raphael, California with a similar uniform and thought it might work well for the Caballeros back home in New Jersey. Obviously it did.

Today, there are many elements which combine to make up the huge impact that the Caballeros have on an audience. The high caliber of performance is certainly a primary ingredient, as is that driving Latin-style music, and the incredible horn lines and percussion sections which have been amazingly consistent over the years. From the beginning, however, the one facet that has “sold” the Caballeros show, that has brought it all together more than any other single visual feature, is that uniform. Actually, more a costume than a uniform, it comprises a black sombrero, a white satin shirt with bloused sleeves, a bright red satin sash, black bell bottom pants with large red pleats on the sides that open and sway as the corps moves through its patterns; black shoes, and white gloves. The uniform has remained virtually unchanged all these years; a testimonial to its timeless design. It is one of the corps’ most notable trademarks.

Another trademark is the short, but dramatic introduction and finale that have been played in one form or another for nearly thirty years. Undoubtedly the most recognized theme music in all of drum corps, it can still be heard in subtle form in the corps’ 1996 presentation. Espania Cani, played in its entirety beginning in 1957 and as an off-the-line introduction for many years thereafter, was originally arranged by Al Mura, and has been affectionately known through the years to corps members and their many fans as “The Rumps”.

The governing bodies of the “big-league” corps in the early days, were the American Legion, and to a somewhat lesser extent, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which trained and maintained staffs of judges to preside over both senior and junior competition. The American Legion Championship, which capped off the week-long Legion national convention, was acknowledged and recognized as the highest honor in drum corps competition at that time; and the championship corps was presented with a trophy, and an orange flag, among other prizes.

1947 - Randalls Island Stadium, New YorkIn August of 1947, the Caballeros attended their first National American Legion Championship contest at Randall’s Island Stadium in New York City, and placed eighth. In 1948, the corps attended the Nationals in Miami, finishing fifth; but a year later, they were disqualified because they had not finished in the top ten at the 1949 Nationals in Philadelphia. A month later, however, after regrouping and putting in some extra practice sessions, the Caballeros won their first Legion State Championship at Wildwood, New Jersey over the Jersey Joes of Riverside, the 1948 National Champions.

1948 - MiamiIn 1950, the Legion Championship was in Los Angeles and the Caballeros were unable to attend. The 1949 and 1950 championships were won by the Garbarina Post corps, which in 1956 became the Skyliners. By the following year, however, the Caballeros had developed into a first rate contender, and 1951 proved to be a pivotal year. Not only did they win their first Legion National Championship, but while in Miami, were offered a trip to Havana by the State Department. Unfortunately, because of prior commitment, that invitation had to be declined.

1951 - First American Legion Championship, Miami

Setting records has always been the ultimate goal and integral part of any form of competitive sport or activity, and drum & bugle corps competition is no exception. The Caballeros began setting records as far back as the fifties. After that first win in 1951, the corps went on to capture the championship again in ’53 and ’54; and then amazingly from 1958 through 1964 – seven years in a row! By the time the American Legion Championship was discontinued in 1980, the Caballero’s color guard proudly carried fifteen orange flags.

Incidentally, after the 1958 Nationals, the corps was again invited to tour Havana, and this time they accepted. 

1958 - Chicago, after winning close Legion ChampionshipDuring the late fifties and early sixties, however, there was a growing number in the drum corps would who didn’t necessarily consider the Legion Nationals a true championship, primarily because more years than not, the contest was held in a distant city; generally convenient for Legionnaires attending the convention, but not for drum & bugle corps based in the northeast. Unfortunately, the drum corps championship was just one small event in the overall Legion convention, and most of the top corps, including the Caballeros, often found it difficult, and some years, impossible, to make the considerable expenditure in money and time to attend an event in cities such as Los Angeles, Portland, or New Orleans. The logistics and costs involved in transporting and housing a large corps over such distances was, for most, simply far greater than it was worth, and often took a year or longer to recover from financially.

It is to the credit of the Caballeros, and Jim Costello in particular, that the corps was able to put forth the effort to attend as many Nationals as they did, but in actuality, the competition at the more distant contests wasn’t always that challenging.

In addition to the financial burden on corps in genera, the Legion rules were based largely on military concepts and styles. As the war years faded further and further into history and senior corps became increasingly staffed with non-veterans, there was a general feeling that the Legion’s rigid competition rules had become outdated and overly restrictive.

1960 - MiamiFrustrations which existed mainly from these two situations gave birth in 1965 to Drum Corps Associates (DCA), a sanctioning body founded by drum corps people to be focused on, and devoted exclusively to, senior drum & bugle corps competition. Without a more dynamic sanctioning body, senior drum & bugle corps competition might well have withered and died long ago. 

Unlike junior corps which seem to be strong all over the United States and Canada, the top senior corps are based primarily in the northeastern United States, and southeastern Canada. The DCA Championship, therefore has always been held at a site within the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or Pennsylvania; sites easily accessible to all, including the top Canadian corps which hadn’t been eligible to compete in the Legion championship. 

The far more liberal DCA rules have opened up the sport, allowing new and different formats in drill and marching styles, presentation, and instrumentation which have encouraged a wider variety of expression.

The final American Legion Championship was held in Boston in 1980, and quite appropriately, was won by the Caballeros.

Willingly taking up the challenge to prove themselves the consummate champions that they are, the Caballeros were accepted into this new venue, and today in the mid-nineties, the DCA record book is largely dominated by Caballero statistics; some of which are as follows:

  • most championships (8)
  • most runner-up placements (10)
  • most consecutive runner-up placements (4)
  • most championship scores of 90 or above (17)
  • most consecutive championship scores of 90 or above (12 in the last 12 years)
  • most high captions (26, plus two ties)
  • longest consecutive streak of top three positions in finals (11 years: 1970-1980)
  • longest consecutive championship wins (1972, ’73, ’74)
  • highest score in a championship (97.7 in 1995)

1965A member of DCA since 1966, the Caballeros have fielded a finalist corps every year since. Of the thirty-six corps that have competed for the DCA Championship, however, only one other corps, the New York Skyliners who appeared in the first contest in ’65 can make that claim.

Of the thirty years that the Caballeros have competed for the DCA Championship, they have placed in the top three, an astounding twenty-four times – probably the single most impressive testimonial to their incredible consistency.

1971In 1961 the Caballeros became the first senior corps to complete a season undefeated. That monumental feat was repeated in 1973; and in 1984 and ’85 the corps amazingly played two solid seasons without a loss! They played their fifth undefeated season in 1995.

The Caballeros have set several records that will never be broken.

In 1989, during the DCA’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration, fans voted the Caballeros their all-time favorite drum & bugle corps; a tribute to their universal appeal and popularity. But perhaps even more important than all the records, awards, trophies and accolades, is the impact that the Caballeros have had on drum corps competition in general; not only in the United States and Canada, but all over the world. Early in their history they established a high standard for excellence in their performance on the field, but thanks to Jim Costello, they also set a high standard for sportsmanship, integrity, and professionalism. These traits have also rubbed off on the playing members of the corps, many of whom also teach other corps, both junior and senior, furthering the best qualities and ideals of drum corps 

Obviously there have been many great years, but asked to name what he considers the Caballeros’ five most outstanding seasons, Costello, after giving the question some serious thought, named and elaborated on his “favorite five”:

  1. “Once we got ourselves through the initial growing pains of the late forties, every year was pretty much a good year, but if I had to choose five seasons that particularly stand out in my memory, I would say that the first was 1958, mainly because of the spectacular job the corps did in winning the Legion Nationals at Soldier Field in Chicago. It was an extremely close contest and almost everybody thought the Syracuse Brigadiers had won, but in the end, we squeaked by to win. It was also an important year for the sport of drum corps competition in general, as there seemed to be a feeling that the whole thing was emerging and gaining in popularity. The contest were getting bigger and better, and the crowds were growing larger. We were always right up there, competition wise, but of course, we weren’t alone. Just some of the great corps we competed against in the mid to late fifties were the New York Skyliners, the Reilly Raiders from Philadelphia, the Princemen from Malden, Massachusetts; Archer Epler from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania; the Hamilton Post from Baltimore, the Syracuse Brigadiers, the Skokie Indians, and many others; tremendous corps that we very much enjoyed competing with. Sadly, only a couple of those corps have survived and are still in actual competition today. Many lifelong friendships were established during that period with members, directors and instructors from other corps, and it seems to me as though the drum corps ‘fraternity’ was forged during the fifties.”
  2. “I would say that the second outstanding year was 1970, mainly because it was the first year that we won the DCA. We had just gone through three rather unsuccessful years, at least for us, and we needed to rebuild. After some rather extensive personnel and instruction staff changes, it was an up and down season, but we felt as though we had a good corps and a point to prove. There was a definite drive to that corps, and the guys put forth the extra effort to win that first championship. I think it permanently changed our ‘work ethic’, and got us back to where we had been in the early sixties. I remember that the Saturday night before the Championship, which was in Rochester, New York that year, we were in a contest in Toronto and came in third to the Hurricanes. I guess that brought out the push we needed the next day. We won the preliminaries in the morning, then came back to win the championship at night. That was also Jimmy Russo’s first year with the corps which gave us a much needed shot in the arm.”
  3. 1964 - Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City “To me the third outstanding year was 1972. Again, due to the incredible performance the corps turned in, we won our second DCA championship. It was a real upset because the Skyliners had pretty much dominated the season, and were expected to take the DCA for a second year in a row. But after that win in Roosevelt Stadium we felt as though we were on the brink of establishing a ‘dynasty’ in senior competition which, as it turned out, is pretty much what happened, as we went on to win the DCA Championship in three of the following four years. By the end of the ’76 season, we had won the DCA five times in seven years.”
  4. “For the fourth I would have to cheat a little and combine two years into one because somehow, to me it seemed like one long, successful season: 1984 and 1985. We went two solid years without losing a contest. By that time, ’83 to be exact, we had women in the color guard which added to the show; made it a little more theatrical and much less military, which seemed to be the trend.”
  5. “And, of course, the fifth would have to be this past year, 1995, not only because of the eighth DCA championship, the high score, and the completion of our fifth undefeated season, but because we hadn’t won the DCA since ’85. It was definitely another turning point year for us. I think we reestablished ourselves, and it was an indication to me that the corps had weathered some identity problems over the past several years and was willing to work hard to get back on track, and back on top.”

1970 - BridgeportKeeping up with the trends, and being in tune with the drum corps scene these days is a never-ending task for a corps director, and to his credit, Jim Costello has possessed the foresight, the tenacity, and the flexibility to change with the times as styles in music, drill and presentation have evolved. He has always striven to provide the corps with the best of equipment, instructors and arrangers, and he maintains an open mind as to innovations of any kind which could affect the corps.

There have been great men in all forms of endeavor throughout history who have risen above the masses to excel. Many of our heroes come from the world of sports, and more often than not are the players themselves. On occasion, however, we also recognize outstanding coaches for their ability to spark and inspire their teams, to lead by example, and to preserve through difficult times; qualities that, more often than not, translate into winning championship seasons.

Most people would agree that coaches such as Vince Lombardi and Don Shula were in a league of their own in this regard. Now, certainly not to minimize the accomplishments of Lombardi or Shula, but simply for the purpose of putting things into perspective, Jim Costello has been at the head of the Hawthorne Caballeros for fifty years; two-thirds of his life, and in that time, the corps has been in championship form more years than not. He has given of himself untiringly and unselfishly. Just as an example, in 1974, while planning for a trip to Miami to compete in the American Legion Championship, it became obvious that there wasn’t enough money in the budget. Costello quietly took a second mortgage on his house in order to finance the trip.

West Point "Hell Weekend"Costello modestly attributes much of his success to having been surrounded by “good people” over the years. Truly amazing is the only way to describe the tireless efforts and dedication to the corps by the many people behind the scenes who have stood on the sidelines in support of Costello all these years; people who just plain love the Caballeros and would do anything for them. People like Bob Murray, who played in the corps during the forties and fifties, and has done an exceptional job as business manager ever since; Joe Campos who marched in the corps in the early sixties, then became the equipment manager and right-hand man to Costello; Jim Russo, Ralph Silverbrand, Frank Pisillo, Bobby Peterson, Lou Storck, George Hayek, Frank Gerris, the late Bill Durborow, and many, many others.

But not all the “behind the scenes” people have been on the sidelines. An old adage states that: “Behind every great man stands a great woman”. This is especially true of the Costellos: Mary and Jim. Mary has played an extremely vital role in the success of the Caballeros right from the beginning. It would have literally been impossible for Jim to have devoted the time and effort that he has to an organization such as the Caballeros without the encouragement, understanding and support of his good wife 

Mary was the founder of the original Caballeros Auxiliary, an organization devoted to helping the corps in any way possible. Over the years, the auxiliary has raised many thousands of dollars through various means, which has helped the corps tremendously, both financially and psychologically 

Mary’s brother, the late John McAuliffe was one of the corps’ founders and its original drum major. He also served as director of the Muchachos, the Caballero’s junior corps, from 1968 until 1977 when the corps was disbanded.

Mary Costello is truly one of the unsung heroes of the corps and anyone who has ever marched with the Caballeros owes her a debt of gratitude. 

Jim and Mary Costello - 1951The citizens of Hawthorne are also justly proud of Jim Costello and the Caballeros, and have been supportive fans from the beginning. Hawthorne’s former Mayor, Louis Bay II, used to say that: “had it not been for the Caballeros, the rest of the world would never have heard of Hawthorne, New Jersey.” 

The Caballeros have always exhibited a knack for making what they do on the field look easy, but in reality it has required many extra hours of hard work. It is a known fact that the corps has traditionally rehearsed longer, harder, and more frequently than most of their competition which has obviously paid off handsomely, but it has also demanded greater sacrifice from the corps members as well as their wives and families.

Beginning back in the sixties and seventies, the corps would spend a long “mini-training camp” weekend prior to memorial Day and the start of the season at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Arriving on Friday night, corps members could count on a music rehearsal that would last until at least midnight. Saturday started at 6 A.M. in the mess hall, with drill practice scheduled for 7; and it lasted all day. 

Another music practice followed the drill practice, again lasting well past midnight. Sunday morning was a repeat of Saturday, and the afternoon usually ended with several runs through the entire show, after which the corps headed for home. 

Jim Costello, wearing the white baseball cap that long ago became one of his trademarks, presided over these exhausting practice sessions, starting with a refresher course in the basics of marching; then breaking down and fine-tuning every aspect of the show until it met with his full approval as well as that of the other instructors. By the end of those sessions, Costello usually had lost his voice completely, but those weekend mini-camps got the Caballeros into midseason form compared to the competition. 

In the eighties, the practice site was moved to West Point, where even better facilities were available. Winter Sunday afternoons were generally spent at the field house at West Point, one of the few indoor structures large enough to accommodate the layout of the entire drill. 

1985By the early seventies, there were several new players in top-ranked senior competition. Many of these corps had been developing in the background for years and were just then emerging on the national scene; while others were recently formed. Corps such as the Rhode Island Matadors rose to national prominence, while others from the sixties, such as the Reading Buccaneers, Rochester Crusaders, Long Island Sunrisers, and Connecticut Hurricanes, continued to improve and field ever stronger corps. 

The eighties brought additional challengers in the form of the Bushwackers (sic) from Harrison, New Jersey; the Steel City Ambassadors from Pittsburgh; and the Empire Statesmen from Rochester, New York.

1985Good solid competition has always produced the best drum corps, and it must be noted that by far, the strongest, most consistent challenge for the Caballeros over the past fifty years has come from their closest geographic neighbors, the New York Skyliners. The Skyliners are also a corps with a long, proud and illustrious history; a large, avid, and loyal following; and deep traditions that date back as far as those of the Caballeros. In spite of the fact that there is a striking difference in theme and presentation, there has always been an intense but friendly rivalry, a mutual respect, and an unmistakable bond between the two corps.

Throughout the fifties, sixties and seventies, spectators at those famous Sunday afternoon “Dream” contests at Jersey City’s Roosevelt Stadium were witness to this classic rivalry. Those highly enthusiastic and very vocal audiences which seemed somehow evenly divided between “Sky” fans and “Cabs” fans, were almost always sure to see either the Skyliners or the Caballeros in the top spot. It was truly an exciting spectacle to see and hear. Now those were the days!

The drum corps world was deeply saddened in September, 1993 at the death of one of its most popular, admired and respected personalities: Richard “Butch” Anderson, the long-time drum major of the Skyliners. At the conclusion of the ’93 Championship in Scranton, Pennsylvania, DCA honored the sidelined and ailing Anderson with a special moment of recognition. Drum majors from all the competing corps in attendance, many choking back tears, came forward one by one to shake his hand, to wish him their best, and to exchange a few private words. Tragically, Butch died just four days later.

1991There’s an interesting story which involves Butch Anderson, as to how, through a quirk of fate, he found a home with the Skyliners, while Jim Russo emerged as drum major of the Caballeros. Anderson was originally slated to come to Hawthorne from the Syracuse Brigadiers, and Russo was expected to go to the Skyliners as assistant to their drum major, Walter Winkleman. Russo happened to have stopped by unannounced to watch a Caballero drill practice, and was informed that Jim Costello wanted to see him. Costello unexpectedly offered Russo the drum major position, which of course, he was thrilled to accept. Under the circumstances, Anderson then went to the Skyliners. The two soon became close friends, in competition as well as off the field, and remained so for twenty-three years.

In retrospect, the “fit” with their respective corps was probably better for both, and it’s difficult now to imagine the roles reversed.

The Muchachos - downtown HawthorneThe Hawthorne Muchachos, the Caballeros’ famous junior corps, was formed in 1959 by the renowned Caballero drum major, Ralph Silverbrand. The impetus for forming the corps was primarily to extend the great world of drum corps to younger players in Hawthorne and surrounding communities, but a secondary benefit was to create a ready pool of talent which would eventually “graduate” into the Caballeros once members reached the age of twenty-two and “aged out” of the junior corps. The Muchachos wore the same basic uniform as the senior corps except for minor trim differences, and shared the instruction staff and rehearsal facilities with the Caballeros

The Muchachos were instantly successful, totally dominating the entry-level circuit they initially competed in with two undefeated seasons their first two years out. From there they moved into a more challenging circuit.

One of the most popular and sought after junior corps, the Muchachos were eventually a member of DCI, the top junior circuit, and placed as high as fourth in 1974, a considerable achievement, given the incredible competition within that organization. 

The Caballeros have maintained a strong alumni association for many years. In 1994 The Association spawned yet another unit, the Caballeros Alumni Drum & Bugle Corps. Organized by a small but enthusiastic group of former corps members, the Alumni Corps quickly grew and continues to grow, currently numbering close to one-hundred members. The corps has been in great demand from the start, but unlike the competition corps, the Alumni Corps maintains a somewhat less rigorous schedule, and is strictly an exhibition and parade corps. 

In addition to assisting the competition corps wherever and whenever possible, one of the purposes for launching the Alumni Corps was to return to some of the great music from the fifties, sixties and seventies; bringing back memories for older players and fans, and exposing younger fans to the music that made the Caballeros famous in earlier years.

Frank Pisillo, who played in the competition corps for many years, and later functioned as a horn instructor, is the music arranger, and he instructs the horn line, assisted by Jim D’Amico, one of the best known soloists of the fifties and sixties. Bobby Peterson and Dan Raymond, both long-time snare drummers, drum instructors, and judges, arrange for, and teach the top-notch drum line. 

Currently, the corps’ membership is made up of players from ten states including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, Delaware, Virginia, Florida and California; and spans all five decades of the Caballeros’ history. The roster includes four members of the original corps of 1946: Joe Scarber, George Hayek, Joe Doran, and Jim Costello himself; the corps’ drill arranger and instructor. 

Joe Campos is the Corps Director and Business Manager, and on the field, the corps is in the capable hands of Chuck Bishop, who holds the distinction of having been a drum major with all three Hawthorne corps: the Muchachos, the Caballeros, and now, the Caballeros Alumni Corps. Chris Sortino is the current Alumni President.

Unlike other so-called “alumni” corps which are open to anyone, membership in the Caballeros Alumni Corps is open only to former playing members of the competition corps.

The Alumni Corps in 1995During the late fifties and sixties, there was undoubtedly no personality in drum corps better known than Ralph Silverbrand. Serving as the Caballeros drum major throughout the great years of the corps’ first quarter century: 1956 through 1967, Ralph led the corps to nine National American Legion Championships in his twelve years as drum major, and his name deservedly became synonymous with “Champion”. He is a true drum corps celebrity.

Ralph SilverbrandBetween 1953 and 1966, the corps won eleven National titles, and Ralph had the distinction of being the only member of the corps to have been on the field for all eleven.

Reminiscing about those days, Ralph tells of how he was singled out to be the drum major in ’56, an honor which he wasn’t really sure he wanted or was qualified for. As he modestly tells it: “I just wanted to play a baritone horn. When Jimmy told me that he wanted me to be the drum major I quit the corps, but he talked me out of it and I became the drum major. I guess it sort of worked out OK.” 

Ralph’s feelings about the Caballeros and Jim Costello haven’t changed in the nearly thirty years that he’s been out of the corps. Ralph states: “I consider my years with the Marine Corps and with the Caballeros as two of the greatest experiences of my life. My association with Jim Costello in particular, made me a much better man in my personal life as well as my business life. He has been a tremendous role model, not only for me, but for all of the hundreds of men who have played in the corps over the years.”

Ralph and his wife Dot now live in the Adirondack region of upstate New York.

Jim RussoFor over half of the Caballeros fifty years, Jim Russo has been at the head of the corps on the field. Jim started his drum corps “career” at the tender age of seven as a soprano bugler with Our Lady of Lourdes Cadets in Paterson, New Jersey. He later switched to French horn bugle, and played with the Dumont Police Cadets and the Fair Lawn Police Cadets, finishing his junior corps years as drum major of St. Lucy’s Cadets in Newark where he won his first state and national junior titles.

Filling the shoes of the legendary Ralph Silverbrand must have seemed a formidable, if not impossible task to an aspiring young drum major back in 1970. Chuck Bishop had ably taken over for Silverbrand during the ’68 and ’69 seasons before entering the Marine Corps, leaving the Caballeros without a drum major. Jim Costello searched for a replacement, finally deciding on young Jim Russo from St. Lucy’s. Today, twenty-six years later, Russo is not only the longest-running Hawthorne drum major, but the only one that many people remember. Strange as it may seem, a large percentage of the current membership of the competition corps hadn’t even been born when Russo joined the corps. Just twenty-one years old at the time, Jim immediately took charge of the corps on the field and has played a vital role in their success over the past quarter century. 

A very popular personality with drum corps fans in general, Jim has been awarded over one-hundred and thirty top drum major trophies while with the Caballeros. In 1993, he was inducted into the prestigious Drum Corps Hall of Fame.

Asked to express his feelings on Jim Costello, Russo reflected: “He’s the most amazing man I’ve ever known. Words that come immediately to mind when I think of Jim are love, admiration, and respect. He has literally been like a father to me and he has influenced my life more than anyone else. Over the twenty-six years we’ve had our differences on occasion…that’s only natural and human, but today, I think more highly of Jim Costello than any other man I know.”

Jim Costello is one of the most widely known and respected individuals in the drum corps world. The following are just several of the many notes of congratulations that have been received from his many friends and associates:

When you see or talk about the Hawthorne Caballeros it’s impossible to not think of Jim Costello. His early years as an instructor set the standard for the Hawthorne Caballeros for the next fifty years from a performance and style standpoint.

As a manager he possesses all the ingredients that make him a giant among drum & bugle corps managers – self motivation, the ability to motivate others, dedication, organizational skills, business smarts, and an understanding of the drum & bugle corps business. He’s a fierce competitor and has the talent to surround himself with quality people.

Proof of Jim’s impact at Hawthorne is the up and down seasons of other senior corps over the years, or in fact, the disbanding of many senior corps while Hawthorne continues to be a perennial contender.

Jim exemplifies words like loyalty, dedication, stamina, and class; and he defies the slogan that ‘nice guys don’t win’.

I’m proud to be a colleague and a friend of Jim Costello, a man who deserves and has my utmost respect. I wish him well, and much continued success.” 

Rip Bernert, Audubon Bons Bons; Audubon, NJ, Archer Epler Musketeers;, Upper Darby, PA 

“Jimmy Costello…the ‘wizard’ of drum corps…Steady, reliable, truly a great role model for all of his students, junior and senior alike. Truly a living legend, a man of vision and courage, the ultimate drum corps director. Hall of Famer, director of the World Champion Hawthorne Caballeros; perhaps the greatest corps of all time. Jimmy Costello: drum corps fans, members, and administrators alike, salute you!”

Vincent A. Bruni, Empire Statesmen; Rochester, NY, President: Drum Corps Hall of Fame 

“Felicitaciones al compedtidores destacados, los Hawthorne Caballeros, y tambien felicitaciones a Jim Costello, el ‘guru’ de campeones en esto, un acontecimiento dorado. 

Yo quisiero lo mejor en esto, una celebracion bien merecida.”

(Irish translation)


“Congratulations to an outstanding competitor, the Hawthorne Caballeros, and to Jim Costello, the ‘guru’ of champions on their golden event.

My sincere best wishes for a well deserved celebration.” 

William “Wild Bill” Hooton, Rielly Raiders; Philadelphia, PA

“Jim Costello is a giant in drum corps circles. He has done more for the drum corps movement than any other individual in drum corps – junior or senior.

It has been a privilege for me to know Jim over the past fifty years. I have always known him as a friend. He was teaching the Holy Name (Garfield) Cadets when I was teaching St. Vincent’s of Bayonne, two of the finest corps in the junior division at that time, so I have also known him as a competitor.

My corps, St. Vincent’s Cadets, was instrumental in helping to organize the Hawthorne Caballeros in 1946. For fifty years, under the leadership and guidance of Jim Costello, the Hawthorne Caballeros have been a contender. Today, they are the most sought after corps for parades, exhibitions, and competitions.

It is a privilege to be Jim’s friend. He is a gentleman with integrity and dedication. He leads by setting an example for all to follow.” 

Michael H. Petrone, President: Drum Corps Associates 

“To the Hawthorne Caballeros, and particularly to Jimmy Costello, congratulations. Fifty years is a long time for a drum & bugle corps, and an eternity for a corps director. The Yankee Rebels extend to both Jimmy and the corps all the best for another fifty!”

George Bull, Yankee Rebels; Baltimore, MD



The past fifty years have not been kind to the drum corps world in general. Of all of the major senior corps that were in existence in 1946, and there were many, today in 1996, only the Hawthorne Caballeros remain intact insofar as that they have never missed a season; still wear the same basic uniform; and still operate under the same administration, under the same name, and out of the same home base: American Legion Post 199 in Hawthorne. Jim Costello is primarily responsible for all of that, and for elevating the organization to what it has long since become: in a class by itself. As the late DCA Chief Judge Walter Kelly once said: “the Hawthorne Caballeros are far more than just a drum & bugle corps; they are truly an institution.”

A half-century after their inception, “The Nation’s Famous Drum & Bugle Corps” is not only going strong, but they’re still at the pinnacle of drum corps competition just as they have always been.

Here’s hoping that the Hawthorne Caballeros will carry on their proud tradition for another fifty years…and that I’ll be around to write about it!

Peter Q. Bishop

Hawthorne Caballeros, 1970-1977


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