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Willie Arthur Smith's Kansas City Marching Cobras disbands, ends on high note

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Posted at 8:59 PM, Oct 03, 2023

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Since 1969, the Kansas City Marching Cobras have influenced the area's history and future.

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After 54 years, the group is disbanding, but the legacy lives on.

“All of our stuff is high energy; high step marching,” said Gregg James, a spokesperson for the KC Marching Cobras. “Twisting and dancing and the soulful sound of the drumbeats gets the crowd involved.”

The KC Marching Cobras left a 54-year mark on the city, and they’re crediting Mr. Willie Arthur Smith.

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“It’s a style that Mr. Smith developed and created,” James said.

Smith has called for the end of the Cobras, leaving on a high note.

“He’s getting up there in age and everything like that, he wanted to do it,” James said. “He can now relax and start enjoying himself.”

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Those close to him say it’s a time for rest after a legacy of performing overseas, doing shows for United States presidents dating back to Lyndon B. Johnson, performing in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades, and countless KCMO performances.

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“There’s a lot of tributes coming out, videos saying, 'Thank you Mr. Smith, you kept me out the street, you gave me something positive to do,'" James said.

Pat Clarke, who served on the KC Marching Cobras board, reflected on the impact of Smith.

“Mr. Smith’s legacy will never end,” Clarke said. “All of these other drill teams — the Falcons, the Pythons, the KC fusion, Gateway — all of these drill teams that have names, Willie Arthur Smith didn’t name, but he created them. A genius, a legend; we’re talking about a man who single-handedly put the city on his back.”

They estimate that 10,000 kids went through the program.

“I watched this man command respect, demand excellence, teaching these kids how to walk and talk,” Clarke said. “Any time a man deals with other people’s kids, you know, and still try to maintain your own, that’s a leader.”

A man who changed the look of a city and the people in it.

“I think Mr. Smith saw the difference in this kid right here,” Clarke said. “At the end of this conversation and I’ll say it every day, job well done. Willie Arthur Smith is a genius.”

According to the KC Marching Cobras nonprofit dissolve rules, they must hand over their gear, uniforms and drums to another nonprofit organization or youth program. The band said it's deciding now.