Joseph Clarke Williams, a longtime Drum Corps International adjudicator, who served as a visual judge at the inaugural DCI Championship in 1972, died Saturday, April 20, in New Jersey. He was 82 years old. 

Williams’ family reported his passing, a result of a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease. 

Inducted into the DCI Hall of Fame in 1999, Williams was known by some as the “gentleman judge,” a fair and friendly personality in a role predicated on critique and objective criticism, charged with ranking and rating drum corps performances on the annual DCI Summer Tour. 

"For those who knew Clarke, you were fortunate to encounter someone who exemplified the character of a DCI judge — honesty, integrity, and professionalism," said current DCI judge administrator John Phillips. 

Williams (left) and the members of the DCI Hall of Fame Class of 1999.


Hall of Fame judge George Oliviero first interacted with Williams as a staff member of the 27th Lancers before becoming a judge himself. Oliviero notes that it was Williams’ keen ability to listen that made him so effective with instructors, corps directors and judges alike. 

“Clarke was empathetic toward everybody who he met,” Oliviero said. “It was always a smile, handshake, listening, nodding, and appreciation of your point of view.”

“Clarke always had the nicest way of telling you things without being mean about it,” longtime friend and fellow DCI judge Sal Adamo said. “Even in a judging critique where a corps came in and wasn't happy with his numbers, he remained calm, explaining to you what he saw in the performance, and he kept asking questions. But he never got upset. He was just a mild-mannered Clark Kent.”

A northern New Jersey native, Williams got his start in the drum corps activity at the young age of eight, marching as a member of the St. Ann’s Cadets of Fairlawn, New Jersey. 

“I stayed with and aged out of the same corps,” Williams recounted in a 2003 profile. “I competed against St. Vinnie’s, Blessed Sacrament, Holy Name, etc. I also had the opportunity to march with them, but chose to age out of the corps I started with.”

Williams (press box lower right), judges at the 2005 DCI Division II & III World Championship Prelims in Brockton, Massachusetts.


After wrapping up his junior drum corps performance experience, Williams went on to teach drum corps, indoor color guards and high school marching bands. His judging career got underway in earnest in the 1960s after getting involved with the Eastern States Judges Association and the Mid Atlantic Judges Association.

Williams was one of 10 adjudicators tapped to evaluate the Top 12 corps at the inaugural DCI Championship Finals in 1972. He served an impressively long career within the DCI judging community, more than 40 years. Williams was selected for World Championships Week judging panels — a prestigious honor — more than 30 times. 

Close to half of Williams’ World Championship assignments were in DCI’s Open Class (formerly Div. II & III, Class A-A/60, etc.), including his last time judging at the 2013 Open Class World Championship Finals. Phillips says, “Clarke was a mainstay on the former Division II & III circuit, serving as a leader and advocate for these corps and their emerging talents.” 

It was at this competitive level that Williams perhaps saw the value in building from the bottom up. He was keen on interacting with and nurturing the young, up-and-coming instructional talent, ultimately helping to strengthen organizations across all divisions in Drum Corps International. 

“With Division II & III back then, and I'm sure it still applies today, I remember that the units would suck you dry for information,” Adamo said. “I think the interaction with those young instructors and talking to the young staffs after judging their corps gave Clarke an energy. They wanted to know everything you had to tell them, and Clarke liked that.”

Jersey Surf executive director Robert Jacobs recounted a time on the 2004 DCI Tour when his organization, then a Division II corps, was scheduled to host two drum corps competitions on successive weekends, both of which Williams was to judge. 

“A weeklong trend of nasty summer storms created a washout of both shows,” Jacobs said. “The second event was canceled only after all of the corps and the judges had already arrived at the show site, to find a submerged stadium field and impassable parking lots.”

Jacobs says that Williams, knowing that his corps was taking a huge financial loss with two canceled events in an eight-day span, “quietly and unexpectedly donated his adjudication fee back to the corps. In his capacity as chief judge, he privately encouraged each of the other adjudicators to follow his lead as well.”

“Along with his passionate mentorship of young designers and instructors through the objective criticism he famously put forth in his adjudicator’s commentary, Clarke demonstrated the true essence of a Hall of Fame personality,” Jacobs added. “Always thoughtful, professional and humble in his approach, he helped our organization to better understand the building blocks of show design at a critical stage in our evolution.”

Many also note Williams as a champion of the young performers whose corps he judged on the football field, continually impressed by their dedication, grit and skill in their craft. This affinity may have been formed early in Williams’ judging career. One of the formative experiences he noted in his tenure was during a bygone era, specifically the DCI Championships in Whitewater, Wisconsin. During this series of events, corps rehearsed across the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater campus, and the judges were housed in the dormitories. 

“Seeing corps after corps practicing on any patch of grass or concrete they could find, and waking up in the early morning to hear a drum line outside your window,” Williams said. “It was a valuable experience being in the same environment with the corps. Seeing the performers working so hard in those last few days before the Championship was a source of inspiration and provided energy for us as judges.”

Williams (far left) and the adjudicators for the 2013 DCI Open Class World Championship Finals.


“This has been — and continues to be — a remarkable journey for me, and it has nothing to do with being around for so long,” Williams said. “Rather, it is and will continue to be a wonderful journey because of what I experience from the performer in each and every performance.”

Williams is survived by his wife Janet, two children and 10 grandchildren. Outside of the marching music activity, Williams’ family said he served as a longtime youth soccer, baseball and basketball coach in his hometown of Oakland, New Jersey and as a church volunteer. 

“He will nonetheless be best remembered for his everyday attempts to make the world a kinder place,” the family posted on Facebook.

Funeral services will include a visitation on Thursday, April 25 at Oakland (New Jersey) Memorial Home, with a funeral mass the following morning at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey.