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(Contributing Writer to DCW)
To truly offer a tribute to a person that has the depth of history as Moe Knox is not possible in just a couple of pages. Here is a man that began his long career as the premier drum corps photographer since 1958 to present. I have known Moe since my first year in drum corps marching with the Black Watch Junior Drum and Bugle Corps or Willingboro, NJ. And we would all gather at Moe’s photo table and look over all the shots from previous shows we had competed and at some of the older shows from eras and corps long since gone. This story is hardly unique, all the available standing area around his table would quickly fill two to three persons deep, with everyone craning their necks and juggling around to look over the shoulder of the person turning the pages of the many photo albums and the numerous proof sheets looking for the particular individual in that particular show. It was always a great thrill to see your corps or yourself captured on film since this was way before personal videotape equipment was around and way before the invention of digital cameras and the Internet.
Photographers’ like Moe Knox were almost revered since they have the opportunity to see these great corps and individual performers up close capturing their shining moments for all eternity. We would all wonder how they would be selected to stand on the field ready to capture all those special moments.
Moe is almost a lost breed of person. He is a gentle and kind soul who is always there with that crooked smile and camera at the ready. He is a tall, lanky fellow that did not seem to age as you see him show after show, year after year. He is a soft spoken individual who usually has only good words to say and respects everyone on and off the field.
He has seen much of drum corps history through the camera lens. Through his photographs, he has chronicled the history of our activity from those first days he picked up his camera and shot his first drum corps show. That date and that corps was the Connecticut Hurricanes in October 1958. It was from this moment that Moe quite literally became the most famous unknown person in the drum corps activity. If you researched his name on the Internet you would find he has over 600 plus hits because many of the hundreds of drum corps web sites has a photo (or a lot more) that was taken by Moe Knox from some show or championship.
Maurice (Moe) Knox Jr. was born to his parents of Maurice (Sr.) and Ada Knox on September 10, 1934. He also has a younger sister named Yvonne who was born about a year and half after later. The family has lived in and around the Milford/Devon Connecticut area for almost 65 years. Maurice Knox Sr. worked in the research and development department at the Singer sewing machine company. He and two other persons developed, built, and patented the first sewing machine to automatically build button holes.
Moe has been a member of the Masonic Freemasons Ansantawae Lodge # 89 in Milford, CT for over 29 years. He also works as a transport volunteer with the Shrine Masons as they bus patients to and from their homes to the Crippled Children's and Burns Hospitals in Boston, MA, or to the Orthopedic Hospital in Springfield, MA. Freemasonry traces its roots to the Middle Ages. It is from associations of stone masons, who built cathedrals, castles, and monasteries of Europe that the fraternity started.
Moe was also a volunteer fireman for 20 years in Milford, CT from 1960-1980 prior to the town moving to an all-paid crew. “Only the fire truck drivers were paid during that time.” “We would all run towards were the fire was reported when called and met the trucks.” “I went through all of the fireman training courses.” “I remember a time when we were going door to door selling tickets to the Fireman Ball.” “We had stopped at this one house and was unable to sell a ticket.” “Later that evening we responded to a building fire and it turned out to be the same house.” “We all saw the irony of this situation.” “I even took a picture of the man hanging out of the window prior to being rescued.”
He loves to visit armed forces museums and specifically ones that feature exhibits about the navy. He is quite fond of the early music of the 50’s and 60’s and his love for marching music is legendary. Moe has an extensive library of drum corps albums along with his huge collection of drum corps photos.
Moe has hopes that his vast collection of photos and negatives will be taken care of by a true photographic professional when he is no longer able to manage this task himself, “so they can be properly cared for and still be around for fans to enjoy.”
Moe actually started his love for marching music from an early age (7th Grade) when he marched with a 12 member Boy Scouts Trumpet Band where he was in the drum line on either the bass drum or on cymbals. Moe also marched in the Milford High School Marching Band. Later when he joined the Navy, during his boot camp indoctrination, he played with the Recruit Drum and Bugle Corps in Bainbridge, MD the group performed at ceremonial parades and other indoor performances. This boot camp in Maryland no longer exists according to Moe who visited the area back in the late 60’s. “They tore the place down and dumped the wood and debris in to a large hole and covered it up.” “I was amazed since this was a very large camp” he added.
Moe served in the armed forces as a Navy Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) from November 1953 until October 1957 serving on board the USS Coral Sea (CV/CVB/CVA-43), a Midway-class aircraft carrier which was only the second ship of the United States Navy to be named for the Battle of the Coral Sea. The ship earned the affectionate nickname "Ageless Warrior" through its long career.
The Coral Sea was used as a pilot trainer for carrier operations off the Virginia Capes and Mayport, Florida. In her long career she embarked on a three-day cruise for the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives. The carrier has sailed on tours of duty in the Mediterranean Sea. This cruise was highlighted by a visit to Spain, and participation in NATO Exercise Black Wave. Returning to Norfolk, Virginia the USS Coral Sea carried out tests for the Bureau of Aeronautics and trained members of the Naval Reserve at Mayport, Florida, and Guantanamo Bay.
Though never engaged in a battle, Moe was able to see much of the world as the ship held duty in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and along the eastern sea shore. He says “I didn’t realize that I was having so much fun as they moved from port to port.” Moe time on the USS Coral Sea allowed him and his shipmates to visit places like Greece, Spain, Italy, and England.
After his time in the Navy, Moe got a job with the Singer sewing machine company where is father still worked. While there, he met up with co-workers (Brothers) who were members of the Connecticut Hurricanes Senior Drum and Bugle Corps and they convinced him to join. That was in the fall of 1958. Since he joined too late with the corps to make into the current season of competition, Moe used his skills of photography to take picture of the corps for the very first time at the Freeport, Long Island show. “I photographed the show mainly for the Hurricanes, but I also shot Skyliners, Sunrisers, Berkshire Marauders, and others at that show.” Moe added. “Back then shows went till October, I didn’t know much about drum corps at the time.”
“I basically fell into photography” replied Moe. “I got my first job out of the Navy working at the Singer sewing machine company as a Research Photographer working with special cameras to capture sewing machines in action so they could play back the film in slow motion to detect and analyze problems.” “We were using fast speed film that would allow us to playback the action at much lower speed.” “In this way, the engineers could quickly determine the cause of a problem and correct the action for future machines.”
Photographing drums corps became Moe’s next passion. He had left Singer to start working as a staff photographer at a local newspaper called the Milford Citizen. His job was to photograph news items involving the police, accidents, crime scenes, etc. Unfortunately, this new position required too much time and some weekends, which made it impossible for him to stay with the Hurricanes. “So I would go to shows when I was able and take pictures” he exclaimed. Moe decided to make it a business. “I had a partner manage the photo table while I was on the sidelines taking pictures of the corps.” “In my early days shooting shows, I was taking a lot of pictures up in the stands of drill patterns then would go down to the field to take individual and ensemble shots during the retreat ceremony.” “It was later that I got the idea that folks wanted close up pictures of individuals and small groups on the field.”
Moe photographed his first major competition at the 1963 World Open held in Bridgeport, CT. It was here that he first got involved with Drum Corps News (DCN) and the newspaper printed several of his pictures from the show. From here, Moe had a long relationship with DCN and with Steve Vickers of Drum Corps World (DCW).
He started his photography career using a 4x5” Graflex Speed Graphic box camera which many photographers argue is the most influential camera of the century, the Graflex Speed Graphic was the quintessential “professional” camera from the 1930's through the early 1960’s. In their heydays, hundreds of thousands of these cameras were manufactured, sold, and used. Moe bought this camera to use for his job at the Milford Citizen newspaper.
Today, Moe owns several other cameras like the Rolleiflex 120 which is a 21/4” square and his Miranda Sensorex, a single-lens reflex cameras for 135 film (35 mm). Moe continues to shoot using only 35 mm color film and has no intention of moving to digital photography. He has also used his panoramic camera on several occasions. “I remember using the panoramic and taking a shot of the NY Skyliners Alumni Corps drum line (and they march 14 snares), I stand about four feet away and I can get the entire line in a single picture.”
Moe rarely uses special lenses, “I used a special adapter fish-eye lens on my camera a few times so I could get up real close to the brass or drums and still get everyone in that section in the shot.” He said.
When discussing how he approaches how he decides what to shoot and how, Moe says “it all comes to the overall show design, with the front ensemble (pit), it is a little harder to get some shots if the corps marching program stays too close to the center of the field or sits just behind the front ensemble.” Moe explained that he likes to isolate the subject of a shot and compare it to the background image so the shot is properly highlighted or complemented. He further remarked that the show environment is also a factor, such as how high the stadium lights are placed, or if there are other factors in the stadium which makes it difficult to best frame the shot. For soloist, he prefers to place a stadium light just behind the head of the performer so he gets a spotlighted or halo effect which truly makes his pictures memorable. “I was shooting at the Skyliners show in Dover, NJ recently, and I was trying to get the Sky honor section, and the wind was blowing the American flag and I waited until the stadium light was blocked the flag and I took the picture.” “It came out very well.”
Moe also remembered some of his most memorable shots, like the one of the Racine Kilties at the 1974 World Open Championship held in Lowell, MA when the water sprinkler came on during the middle of the corps performance which he captured on film. Another example was the baritone player from Smithtown Freelancer from Long Island in 1967 when the corps was moving to the front line and his pants were slowly dropping. “If the corps had stopped at that moment,” Moe commented, “the kids pants would have been around his ankles.” “Luckily, the corps turned backfield and he was able to grab his pants and a judge came over a zipped him up.”
There was another time when Moe was shooting a show and he was not sure if it was St. Lucy’s or the Skyliners, but they had a large rack of cymbals on the front line and the drum judge at the time was Walt Kelley who was standing there looking at the corps member playing this instrument. Therefore, Moe snapped the picture, and later he cut out a question mark (?) and pasted it onto the picture above Walt’s head making it appear that he was thinking, “What is that!” and submitted it to the Drum Corps News. It truly was a memorable shot!
Moe has contributed to several drum corps history books and has contributed to the new DCI picture book released earlier this year as a joint project between DCI and Drum Corps World.
Moe has strong opinions about the state of drum corps and has witnessed these changes first hand from the eye of the camera. He is quick to say that he has enjoyed most of the drum corps advances over the years but holds fast to keeping the basics of corps traditions intact. “I will always love the old style marching and color presentations.” “I would like to see more corps keep an honor guard section and to continue to show the proper respect to the section and more importantly the American flag.”
One of Moe’s favorite quotes is “today’s DCI corps’ are at times a swirling mass of humanity playing unrecognizable music!”
Many did not know that Moe had injured his ankle in 1999 during the DCA Championship show held in Allentown, PA (falling wrong when he was climbing down off his van). Since then he has had to cut back on a lot of shows over these past seasons as his leg bothers him more and more and he simply does not have the level of mobility to move on the field he once was capable. He now has to consider these health limitations when deciding to shoot a show.
So there may soon come a time when we may not see Moe Knox standing on the field, camera at the ready, framing his next shot, taking that next photo masterpiece that someday, someone will see and marvel at the drum corps experience we all now see and hear. So now is the time to take a moment to honor a man who has preserved our activities long history. He is truly a man who deserves recognition for all that he has accomplished.
This tribute can not completely convey the sentiment of the many drum corps people who have known Moe for all these years, here are some messages from a few of those fans:
Carol Pennisi Terreri an alumni from the Audubon Bon Bons 1959 through 1970 and a current Archer-Epler Alumni says: Speaking of Moe Knox, He has done so much to preserve the heritage and memories of our activity. He has been around for as long as I can remember (and I hate to admit that's a long time). When I first came back into to drum corps about six or seven years ago I was surprised to see that he was still around and still had just about every picture he had ever taken.
Josh Katz, Mellophone with the Hawthorne Cabelleros wrote:
WOW! Its really about time he got a little glory in all the years he has contributed such great media and coverage of drum corps.
Moe has been a fixture in the Drum Corps scene since before I was born and I believe he was there taking picture of me then too. I sometimes like to say he has been following me around the field all my life since he probably has pictures of me in each corps I have ever marched. Back around 1978 there was an article about me "The Memoirs of Josh Katz" in Drum Corps News (thanks mom) which he did the entire pictorial coverage. My mom from time to time helps him out at his table when she wasn't working Sky's table. I can't think of a time where I haven't seen Moe in typical regalia, in his navy cap, blue short sleeve button down and his trade mark jeans. I love our little talks when I get the chance to see him. We have a bit in common in that I was also for short time, working in the photographic industry and we would compare notes on cameras he was using and I remember how excited he was when he told me of his new panoramic camera and how he got such great front sideline shots with it.
To say Moe is a Drum Corps icon is just the icing on the cake. Moe, in my book is the eyes to the soul of Drum Corps, I can't think of him in any other way. He in so many ways is a part of each and every Drum Corps on the field and friend and family to all he has captured. He has captured some of the most memorable Drum Corps moments. Moe is a good friend and I'm honored to have been in his sights for so many years and I'm looking forward to see what he has in store for this year.
We love you Moe!
Ruth Gross offered this message to Moe:
I have known Moe since I marched with the Westshoremen in the early 80s. Thanks to Moe I have great photos of our corps and my corps family on the field.
I remember how we used to race off the field, and run to Moe's stand to buy the latest pictures of our corps. We used to take the money on the field in our gloves so we didn't have to race back to the bus. Most of us would forgo buying anything else-we wanted to have enough money for his great work.
He is a gentle and sweet man-always smiling and loving what he does so well. It's not a drum corps show with/out Moe being there.
Mark & Colleen Dewine of Syracuse, N.Y. sent this message for Moe:
Just one quick story about the amazing Mr. Knox.
About three years ago, my wife and I went to Moe and asked him to dig up some early '70's photos of Utica's Magnificent Yankees and Owego Mello-Dears. Two weeks later, at another contest, he said, "I've got JUST what you're looking for!" He handed us eight 5x7 B&W photos, four from each corps, with three of the Mello-Dear photos with my wife CLEARLY in view. Two of the Magnificent Yankee photos showed me. And I asked him, "How did you manage to find these particular photos?" His reply was something like, "I remember you guys..."
Moe is just "the Best!"
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