Shark City Drum Corps: Moving to the Beat of Their Own Drum
Frederick Dixon and Orlando Edwards, percussion instructors at rival high schools in Norfolk, once drove their band members to be the best at Norview and Booker T. Washington, respectively.
They’d met about a half-dozen years ago, drawn together by their appreciation of music and a focus on shaping the “rat-tat-a-tat!” rhythms of drummers. However, they wanted to team up and influence a whole generation of percussionists – beyond just a couple of local high schools.
So, the duo formed Shark City Drum Corps in 2018, designed with a range of goals for students of all ages. They provide young drummers with another outlet besides their school band. They seek recruits from different cities. They mentor. They provide a study hall where instructors and volunteers assist with classwork.
“We don’t take away from high schools,” said Dixon, who sees his organization more as a complement, not a substitute to school bands. Roughly 50 students now practice with Shark City, from elementary through high school. It also started a dance component for a handful of students, primarily young girls.
The group’s spunk caught the attention of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. In 2021, the community foundation awarded a $30,000 grant over three years to support the music program.
That’s the biggest grant the organizers have won, said Dixon, who leads the Black-led nonprofit. “With that donation,” he added, “we’ve been able to get people to help, play with us, or do sound for us and cover the expenses.”
Organizers have drawn participants from Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Portsmouth. Volunteers can already point to some proud milestones. Shark City has sent ten students to college with music scholarships over the past couple of years.
They won first place during a competition in Atlanta a few years ago. And, their YouTube video channel is growing with followers.
Shark City has also partnered with local organizations, helping other folks learn the joys of drumming. Shark City’s volunteers teamed up with Families of Autistic Children in Tidewater (FACT) for a recent performance. Social and extracurricular activities especially help with the overall growth and development of children with autism.
Shark City is committed to helping kids beyond the boom of a bass drum.
Armoni McIntyre, 18, began playing with Shark City when he was a junior at Nansemond River High School in Suffolk. He now has a full-tuition scholarship at Norfolk State University and plays the snare drum in the award-winning Spartan Legion Marching Band.
“They pushed me to go to college,” McIntyre said. “They keep in touch, try to get you to stay on top of your schoolwork.”
The group “is more of a family,” he said.
Darion Clark, a 20-year-old sophomore at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., earned a full musical scholarship to the historically black college. The Norview High School grad is a multifaceted talent: He’s on the drumline, plays piano in the chapel, and sings for the jazz band.
He was at Shark City at the very beginning, when only a few students had joined.
“It’s given me better communications skills, better leadership skills,” Clark said. “It’s made me who I am today, honestly.”