To stand up in front of your classmates and lead them as drum major is the height of responsibility in a school band. It takes a combination of authority and respect to keep that many people marching in step and that many instruments humming in rhythm. At Cathedral High School, it’s an honor that until next school year hasn’t been afforded to an African American female student this century.
Chloe Miller, a 16-year old sophomore, will be the first to own that honor. She was one of two drum majors Cathedral’s band leadership — including the director, other adult judges and current drum major — selected to lead the Pride of the Irish.
“That’s always been important for me, to see someone who looks like me in the band,” Miller said. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to become drum major.”
There have been African American drum majors, but most have been male. The last African American female drum major was Willacin Gholston, who graduated in 1995.
Drum major auditions included giving a short speech to the band, calling out commands and leading the band in the national anthem. Band director Kathy McCullough said Miller was especially impressive during the national anthem, showing that she won’t have a problem giving direction to band members who will be older than her. McCullough said band members had a good response to Miller, which isn’t always the case when soon-to-be seniors take orders from younger classmates.
Miller said she felt confident during her audition, but she had to wait three days to learn her fate, a “nerve-wracking” stretch of time. It turns out Miller should have believed her instinct during the audition.
“That whole day, the night before, I was frantic and nervous,” said Miller, who started playing the flute in sixth grade and wants to also learn the saxophone. “[But] when I went through the motions, I felt confident and like that’s where I was supposed to be.”
McCullough has been the band director for 22 years, making Miller the first African American female drum major under her leadership.
“It’s special, absolutely,” McCullough said. “On the other hand, she was the best. It didn’t matter if she was African American or female. … We take the best person. I’m thrilled that it’s Chloe. She earned the job.”
Miller knew there had been African American male drum majors before her but wasn’t sure when Cathedral ever had a female drum major. Though she won’t be the first, she’ll be the first in quite a while. That means Miller may have to get used to girls — her younger sister being one — looking up to her as a role model.
“Maybe there’s some pressure, I guess,” she said, “to be the best drum major I can be and represent myself and my race as well as I can.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Miller would be the first African American drum major at Cathedral High School. Cathedral later found records showing Willacin Gholston, who graduated in 1995, was the last African American female drum major, though the school did not know if she was the first.