Inception and early years
The Velvet Knights were born in 1963, a result of a split within the Anaheim Explorer Scouts that also resulted in the Anaheim Kingsmen. After the California State Championships in 1963, some Scout staff members wanted to modernize the corps by replacing the existing uniforms with traditional ones, and by jazzing up the musical repertoire. When that did not appear possible, Ziggy Kanstul and some parents left the Scouts to pursue their vision, forming the Velvet Knights (“VK“). The remaining Anaheim Scouts soon reorganized as the Anaheim Kingsmen. Velvet Knights success was rapid. Less than two years after its formation the corps won the California state crown.
Throughout the remainder of the 1960 the Velvet Knights were a West Coast powerhouse, sharing California domination with their erstwhile brothers, the Kingsmen, and trading the coveted California State Championships back and forth. The two corps also traded membership; their corps halls were right across the street from each other in Orange County.
VK first toured nationally in the late 1960s, competing well on the national stage. The corps placed in the CYO and American Legion Finals in 1970. Notably, the corps did not lose a single parade that they entered, beating out even the fabled Troopers.
The corps is credited with being the first corps to perform with G-F bugles, at a 1968 appearance in Chicago's Civic Opera House. They also pioneered electronics on the field as early as 1968 when they fielded an electronic bugle that could sound like a cello, bari sax, or oboe.
The corps had the distinction of appearing in the movie "Americathon" in 1979.
VK in the early 1970s couldn't attract the numbers of members needed to keep up with the competitive sizes of the Kingsmen or the Santa Clara Vanguard, which had appeared in 1967. The Knights, however, did seem to attract incredible talent to compensate for their smaller numbers. Regardless, the corps struggled through most of the 1970s, placing in the DCI top 25 twice, but slipping to 33rd in 1979.
During the 1978 season, the California Surf professional soccer team hired members of the VK percussion section to create the sound of pounding surf with specially micced tympani at Surf games.
They took a year off in 1980 to reorganize the staff and plot a new course. This organizational period gave management and staff time to come up with a five-year plan to reach DCI Finals. Demonstrating the mettle that had kept the VK alive since 1963, the corps performed in parades and rebuilt for the 1981 season. The parade and performance activities of the summer of 1980 proved to be a catalyst to membership in the following year. Performances and other activities created a solid nucleus of members to build on.
Many changes occurred in the early 1980s as the staff began thinking more creatively. From 1982 to 1984, the VK made enormous changes to their style and staff personnel, leaving the military discipline behind and adapting a laid-back Southern California appearance in 1982. Hawaiian print shirts, red Vans sneakers, and straw hats replaced the white silks and cadets jackets of the early years.
The VK immediately became recognized as a West Coast version of the East Coast Bayonne Bridgemen, who at the time were known as DCI's entertaining/funny corps. Due to the enormous popularity of the new VK, only a handful of members (fewer than ten in five years) left the VK to march other corps. Members of corps from northern California, Arizona, and Colorado were traveling to sunny Southern California to march with the VK.
DCI placements advanced from 33rd in 1981, to 21st in 1982, 17th in 1983, and the corps' first Finals appearance in 1984. Perseverance was the corps' virtue, and a four-year promise was being kept to corps members and alumni. In 1985 the VK placed 11th, 12th in 1986.
1987 would be a major boost to the VK. Even though the Finals dream was realized in 1984, there were still ten other places in Finals the VK hadn't reached. Former Bridgemen director Bobby Hoffman joined the staff in 1987, and with his fertile mind for the absurd, the VK ascended to a seventh-place tie with the two-year-old Star of Indiana.
Later years and demise
Velvet Knights had carved out a place on the drum corps stage as the "Clown Princes of Drum Corps" and "The Harlem Globe Trotters of DCI,“ entertaining audiences all over the United States and Canada and in countries abroad. VK remained a DCI finalist through 1990 before falling short in 1991, but returned to the top 12 for their last Finals appearance in 1992. 1993 through 1996 saw VK remain in DCI’s top 25, but they would not grace DCI Finals again.
The quest to again reach Finals status led to spending mistakes in hiring more expensive staff and acquiring debt which could not be sustained with existing 'bingo' based fund-raising.
As was common practice at the time, the Velvet Knights organization classified its staff as independent contractors and paid them with notices to the IRS as 1099s. A staff member who disagreed with this practice contacted the IRS which triggered an audit just before the 1997 season. As the IRS determined that drum corps staff were employees of the organization, the organization was ordered to pay federal taxes and medicare costs for that year and for several prior years. Subsequent penalty fees, back taxes, and interest brought about the financial demise of the corps.
Rebirth and rebranding
On October 16, 2005, VK Youth Arts Organization was formed, not by any of the previous management or staff of the original Velvet Knights Organization, but by a few dedicated alumni whose desire is to return a "new" version of their much beloved corps to the field. The "NEW" Velvet Knights Drum & Bugle Corps, or VK, will be marching either Division II or Division III for their inaugural season in 2007 depending on membership numbers. They are in the middle stages of their evaluation process with DCI, and have petitioned and were voted in to the DCI Pacific Division by their advisory board back at the October meetings. Once the evaluation is complete, DCI will post their tour schedule.