Drumline group has changed lives for 50 years

By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Wherever the Los Angeles Parmelettes drumline performs, crowds gather to clap and cheer on the group in their blue and gold uniforms that have won accolades for their showmanship, precision and skill.

Composed of 22 young people between 7 and 22, the drumline group was the brainchild of schoolteacher Willie Mae Taylor, a career educator who established the group in 1970 to steer youth away from gangs and guns.

“She was a teacher at Parmelee Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles and a huge community advocate,” said Lakeisha Mack-Doyle, Taylor’s granddaughter, who joined the group at the age of 5 and now serves as the its executive director.

“We traveled to Arizona, Texas, Las Vegas and Louisiana to compete against other drum groups and we won several first place drill team competitions,” said Mack-Doyle, adding that the group had become her passion.

“It doesn’t matter if the young people know how to drum or not when they join,” Mack-Doyle said. “I teach them everything they need to know about drumming.”

Mack-Doyle said the group helps to build the self-esteem of its members. 

“When young people join the Parmelettes, they learn about self-discipline, structure, teamwork, leadership and integrity,” she said. “We urge each member to achieve personal greatness and increase their skills so that they can reach extraordinary levels of excellence.”

Mack-Doyle instructs members how to hold the drum sticks, how to properly beat the drum, how to position the drum, and even how to read music. She also teaches the members the difference between the base, snare and tenor drums as well as how to use cymbals.

Over the years, the Parmelettes have won more than 100 trophies in various competitions

“We participated in the Pacesetter competition in 2021 in San Bernardino and we beat out nine other drumlines,” Mack-Doyle said. “We won first place and won three trophies for having the best captain and best snare player.

“In March, we participated in the Street Creed event at the San Pedro Theater in San Pedro. We battled the Free Agent drumline and we won.”

Mack-Doyle pays all of the expenses for the Parmelettes out of her own pocket. She is the owner of a child care business as well as Making Abilities Count with Kindness, a supportive service agency for the developmentally disabled at Westside Regional.

“If members of the group need uniforms, food, or even housing, I am here to help,” she said.

“My husband, DeAndre Doyle, provides transportation. He supports all the young men in the group and keeps up the positive energy.”

Mack-Doyle actively encourages marginalized youth searching for support and a step up in life to join the group.

“Some of our members are foster kids who have no family and who are seeking a place to belong,” said Mack-Doyle, who takes care of foster children in her home.

The child care provider also invites kids with autism and other disabilities to join the group.

Several former Parmelettes are now successful in their own right, she added.

“Rikki Hughes is a producer who had been a member of the Parmelettes most of her young life,” Mack-Doyle said. 

Hughes was part of the group in the 1980s.

Hughes has won three Grammys for best comedy albums featuring comedian Dave Chappelle. She also won an Emmy for outstanding variety special for Chappelle’s “Equanimity.”

Hughes also produced awards shows such as “The BET 25th Anniversary Special and “The BET Comedy Awards.”

Donald Williams, a barber who drummed with the Parmelettes from 1975 to 1984, now cuts hair in his own barbershop, Taking All Fades.

“I watched a lot of young men in this community get killed,” he said. “I knew I wanted to help save these young men from the streets, so a few years ago, I started mentoring the young men in the barbershop every Wednesday.” 

Williams, who now serves as a father figure to 27 boys, has fond memories of the drumline.

“The Parmelettes took us to levels we could never fathom,” he said. “They took us to cities like Las Vegas and Palm Springs to perform. Plus, the Parmelettes fed us and clothed us.

“Ms. Taylor taught us about self-respect. She would say things like, ‘Straighten up and pull your pants up.’ She made sure we were always neat because we reflected the Parmelettes.”

William Hasley, 22, remembered being bullied and teased in school because his school mates thought his mother was different.

“My mom had COPD which makes it hard for her to breathe,” rsaid Hasley, who has been taking care of his mother since he was 12. 

But it was his mother, who was surfing Facebook one evening, who read a post that would change Hasley’s life.

“A local drumline group called the Los Angeles Parmelettes was seeking members,” Hasley said. “At the time, I was interested in music but I didn’t know how to drum. But they were looking for young people to join, so I decided to apply.”

Joining the group opened up a whole new world for Hasley, who has drummed and traveled with the group all over the country. He eventually became the group’s captain.

“These opportunities took me off the street and kept me out of trouble so that I always have something to do,” Hasley said. “I get to meet different people which makes the experience worthwhile.”

Hasley said he loves helping people and is currently enrolled at Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

“I hope to get my nursing certificate and work my way up to becoming a registered nurse,” he said.

Mack said the Parmelettes receive many requests to perform, even from elected officials.

“We performed for Karen Bass when she was running for mayor of Los Angeles,” Mack-Doyle said. “We also drummed for Congresswoman Maxine Waters when she was running for (re-election) and we recently performed for the Black caucus.

“County Supervisor Holly Mitchell also is a big fan of ours and every year we perform at the Kingdom Day parade here in Los Angeles.”

The group also has performed at the Super Bowl and has demonstrated its spirited drumming during a Los Angeles Rams pregame show. 

“Our motto is ‘No more guns, more drums’ and I help to build the members’ self esteem,” Mack-Doyle. “I take them away from everything that is going on in their world and I let them know that they are winners, no matter what.”

Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at metropressnews@gmail.com.

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