Throwback Thursday, thwarted

I was all set to post an embarrassing Throwback Thursday picture based on a copy of the 1994 Corks and Curls I found online at the UVa library. Except that it, along with the digitized versions of all the other Corks and Curls I had been using for research, has now disappeared again.

I’m a little frustrated. I know that Coy Barefoot had been working on an online museum, which went password only not long after I found and pointed it out back in 2015. Now the scanned versions of all 120 volumes, which were previously accessible via the UVA library catalog, are offline.

If someone is going to index them and re-add them, I’d be obliged, but I’d love to hear a timeline for when that will happen.

What’s old is new

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UVA Today: Renovated Rotunda returns as element of UVA graduation. As promised, the University’s yearslong renovation of the Rotunda is wrapping up in time for students to begin using the new spaces in the fall. I’m excited by the progress and eager to see an old friend renewed, but I’m also a little wistful.

The picture above is from the tour of the Rotunda that I took Reunions weekend 2014. The tour allowed alums an unusual amount of access to the building, even including normally off limits rooms like the north clock room. That was because the interior had already been emptied in preparation for the second phase of the Rotunda’s renovation, which included major overhauls of many interior spaces… including the dome room.

I’m not especially nostalgic for the acoustic tile shown on the Rotunda ceiling in the photograph above, but it makes me somewhat melancholic that it’s gone—along with some other familiar features of the interior, like the double-curved ground floor staircase (introduced in a post-Jefferson renovation, and a copy of the ones Jefferson did design on the second floor). The Rotunda will still be there—but it will be changed in a thousand small ways.

But… that’s the passage of time, and the story of the University of Virginia as a whole. We want to hold onto the familiar, not recognizing that doing so may hold back progress. I’m really looking forward to students using the space again, and only a little melancholic about the loss of aspects of the space that will now only exist in my memory.

Back story: Paul Saunier and the integration of UVA

Following up on Don Loach’s comment on my post about Edwin S. Williams, the Virginia Glee Club‘s first black member, I dug into some of the back story. It turns out the Glee Club wasn’t the only organization helped through the pains of integration by UVA president Edgar F. Shannon’s assistant Paul Saunier.

An article in UVA Today about Saunier from 2014 gives the highlights of his career. Arriving at the University to advise Shannon about public relations, his first advice was that race was, in the early 1960s as the Civil Rights movement unfolded, the biggest single public relations issue that the University faced—and it couldn’t be fixed by PR alone.

One of the first targets was life on the Corner, almost entirely segregated in 1962—until Saunier visited merchants one by one and pointed out that, given the international enrollment at UVA, they might unwittingly be refusing service to a prince, resulting in a PR nightmare. The Corner, with the shameful exception of the White Spot, was duly integrated two years before required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. One imagines that the conversation with the Route 29 truck stops went similarly, only backed up by the force of the newly passed act.

There’s plenty more in the article about the real, pragmatic work done by Saunier to ensure that black students not only matriculated but graduated. It’s well worth a read, and a realization that the transition from the UVA of minstrels and blackface didn’t become the diverse place it is today without considerable work. We owe a debt of thanks to Saunier for helping the University enter the modern era.

Integrating the Virginia Glee Club in 1961

1961-62 Glee Club in the 1962 Corks and Curls, page 159
1961-62 Glee Club in the 1962 Corks and Curls, page 159. Courtesy University of Virginia Library

On Saturday afternoon, we were wrapping up a tour of Virginia Glee Club archives in the Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. I had just taken about 50 alums, friends, conductors and family through the items, which I knew quite well having reviewed all of them—and donated some of them myself. We had also just ceremonially donated former Glee Club director Donald Loach‘s collection of concert programs to the library, and I was feeling pretty good about myself as a historian.

Then an alum asked a question that stopped me in my tracks. “Do you know who the first African-American member of Club was?”

After a pause, I replied, “No, but we should.”

The Virginia Glee Club is part of the larger story of the University of Virginia, and that story includes discrimination against African-Americans. It wasn’t until 1950 that Gregory Swanson, a graduate of Howard Law School, applied to take graduate courses at the University of Virginia, was denied admission, sued and won, becoming the first black student at the University—only to drop out in the summer of 1951. The University’s president, Colgate Darden, said he “was not well prepared for the work.” In the early 1950s two other African Americans followed in Swanson’s footsteps, and Walter N. Ridley became the first black student not only to gain a degree at the University but also the first black student to receive a doctorate from any Southern university.

It took the undergraduate schools a few more years, but in September 1955, following on the heels of the 1954 Brown vs. Board decision, three black students matriculated in the engineering school. Theodore Thomas and George Harris dropped out by the following spring, but Robert Bland continued on and was the first African-American undergraduate to graduate from the University in 1959, nine full years after the struggle for integration started. Also at the end of the fifties, Edgar F. Shannon took over as University president, and that’s when things started to get rolling.

I knew that the first black Glee Club member had to have joined sometime after 1959. I knew the story of David L. Temple, Jr., class of 1969, who was a member of Club from 1967 to 1969 and desegregated the fraternity system at the University, but I believed the first African-American member of Glee Club came earlier.

My second thought was that he would have joined during Don Loach’s first season as conductor, 1964-65. There’s a story in our archives that the Glee Club went on tour that fall, only to have their bus refused service in a truck stop on Route 29. After the tour, Loach raised the issue with President Shannon, and subsequently the truck stops got integrated. It’s a great story, and I assumed that this young man (whose name I’m still working on identifying; I have a bunch more candidates to work through with yearbook pictures) was the first student. (Update: I was closer than I thought. See below.) But as I was flipping through the 1965 yearbook, I found a picture of one of the graduating students of the Class of 1965 and knew we had found our candidate.

In 1961-1962, the group picture of the Glee Club for the first time has a black face. (That’s the picture up above.) The young man standing on the second row to the left side of the stage of Old Cabell Hall is Edwin S. Williams, of Smithfield. He stayed in the Glee Club for two seasons—as did most members, since it could only be taken as a graded course for two years—and completed his BA in chemistry, graduating with the class of 1965. And I believe, based on the evidence I have so far, that he was the first African-American member of the Virginia Glee Club.

There’s certainly more of his story to be told, and I will continue to look for more information. But one of my first questions is: if the truck stops on Rt 29 were first integrated in 1964-65, what did Williams do when the Glee Club got on a bus in 1961-62? I think we have a lot more to learn, but I’m glad we’ve taken the first step.

Update April 28: Donald Loach filled in the missing pieces by confirming that Edwin S. Williams was still in Glee Club in 1964-1965—was the baritone section leader, in fact—and was the Club man not served at the truck stop. So the stories are connected! And we need to fix our roster information.

The Glee Club Army at 145

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I’m still coming down off the high of last weekend. What an amazing 145th anniversary celebration for the Virginia Glee Club. And yet it was comfortable and relaxed in a way that I didn’t think it could possibly have been. We had friends and family there, and alums from the early 1950s all the way up through last year in attendance.

Things that were surprisingly great: having older fossils (and Glee Club honorary grandmother Bonnie Ford!) in the Glee Club House on Friday night, and not having the house fall down under her; in fact, the house didn’t even smell bad. Showing up as alums for the party with a keg and a dozen College Inn pizzas. Watching the eyes of the older alums light up as they experienced the magic of “songs on the bar.”

Getting up early on Saturday morning and watching the Lawn wake up, then watching all the alums spontaneously appear. Don Loach showing real fire as he led us briskly through “Hark, all ye lovely saints” and two numbers from “Summer Songs.” Singing the first movement of Testament of Freedom with alums from seven decades. Watching John Liepold absorb what Club tradition had done to “Winter Song,” which he introduced into active repertoire almost 25 years ago, then conveying everything he wanted done with rubato and dynamic without saying a single word. Singing the James Erb “Shenandoah” facing the back of the hall and hearing John’s occasional finger snaps clarifying the beat as we listened closely to each other. Singing the Shaw/Parker “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor” at maximum velocity and finding it lay ready for me, more than 20 years after we toured it. Hearing the conductors trade stories about having sung with Shaw. And doing the Biebl with over a hundred current Glee Club members and alums.

Marching a crowd of alums over to the Small Special Collections Library and watching them absorb a small portion of the treasures from the Glee Club’s archives there. Seeing Tyler along with a crowd of 1990s alums at the Biltmore. Choking up during Don Webb’s toast at the banquet. Watching the current Virginia Gentlemen sing “Perfidia” with three alums from the 1950s, including two of the original eight members. Jumping up with them and the current Club to perform “Shenandoah” as an entire Glee Club army.

I’ll post more but wanted to get a few thoughts out today. And the great thing is that we get to do it again in five years!

Librarians of note

There have been two interesting appointments (or proposed appointments) in the world of librarians recently, one at the Library of Congress and one at the University of Virginia. Interestingly, both appointments revolve around the transformation of libraries from physical to digital.

First, UVA’s selection of John Unsworth as the next University Librarian and Dean of Libraries (UVA Today, Cavalier Daily). Unsworth’s selection makes sense on a number of levels. Back when I was an undergraduate, he was a founder of digital library sciences and the use of digital technologies in research at UVa with the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. More recently, as the dean of libraries at Brandeis he oversaw a large library system. Interestingly, from the CD article, it seems he’s stepping into a student-led debate over the role of libraries and the transition from physical to digital, with students protesting the sending of books from the stacks to long-term storage. I can’t think of too many other people I’d like to have thinking through the considerations in that debate.

Second, President Obama’s nominee for Librarian of Congress, Carla D. Hayden, got her Senate hearing yesterday (New York Times, Washington Post). As expected, the nominee’s bona fides as both a librarian and her capabilities in extending libraries into the digital future went unchallenged by the committee, though the relationship of the Copyright Office to the LOC was raised as a possible issue. Her smooth hearing was a nice update to her previous history in 2004 with the federal government, when in her role as head of the ALA she went toe to toe with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft over the library records provision in Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. In fact, aside from the usual partisan carping in right wing blog circles, there seems to be remarkably little argument with the position that Dr. Hayden is precisely the right candidate for the job.

Why do issues of digital literacy and concerns about transitioning to digital humanities figure so largely in both these selections? I’d argue that they are the right questions for all libraries and other professions which rely on data, which these days includes just about … everyone.

The Glee Club on Founders Day, 1943-1993

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The Virginia Glee Club meeting Bill and Hillary Clinton at the Jefferson Memorial, Founders Day, 1993 (Thomas Jefferson’s 250th birthday)

The Virginia Glee Club has a long history with the celebration of Founder’s Day, the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia. While the Glee Club does not dress up in purple robes for dawn rituals (at least, not that we’re aware of), the group has been associated with the holiday for decades, and some of the Club’s most significant moments date to Founder’s Day celebrations. A few examples are below.

1943: The Testament of Freedom

Concert program from the 1943 premiere of Randall Thompson's Testament of Freedom
Concert program from the 1943 premiere of Randall Thompson’s Testament of Freedom

The 1943 Founder’s Day concert was one of the Glee Club’s earliest Founder’s Day triumphs. The Club’s 1930s impresario, Harry Rogers Pratt, had resigned as director in 1942 to contribute to the war effort, and Randall Thompson, the head of the music department, had stepped in. He also brought along one of his young professors, Stephen Tuttle, who would become the permanent director of the Glee Club in 1943. Thompson was approached by the president of the University, John Lloyd Newcomb, to write a work for the celebration of Jefferson’s birthday. He responded with The Testament of Freedom, which set passages of Jefferson’s writing to music for men’s chorus and orchestra, and dedicated it to the Virginia Glee Club.

The first performance was recorded by CBS for nationwide broadcast, since the work’s text provided an uplifting message of patriotism and resolve, and it was subsequently transmitted over shortwave to Allied servicemen stationed in Europe.

1976: Founder’s Day Bicentennial

Bicentennial Founder's Day concert program
Bicentennial Founder’s Day concert program

The Testament continued to be an important part of the Glee Club’s repertoire—it appears on 1972’s A Shadow’s on the Sundial—and reappeared with some frequency at Founder’s Day concerts. One such occurrence was in 1976, when Club performed the work at the University on the Bicentennial Founder’s Day alongside Elliott Carter’s “Emblems.” This wasn’t the first time the group performed the work; they had previously sung it with the Norfolk Symphony and at the Kennedy Center.

1981: Seven Society award and donation

Letter from the Seven Society announcing a donation to the Glee Club tour fund
Letter from the Seven Society announcing a donation to the Glee Club tour fund

By 1981, the Glee Club had undertaken three international tours in less than a decade and was starting to see the necessity of establishing a fund to support members who could not afford to pay their own way. In the late 1970s the Glee Club endowment had been established to support touring activities, and it received a boost in 1981 when the Seven Society, following their award of the James E. Sargeant Award to the Glee Club (given for organizations who made outstanding contributions to the University), made a donation to the fund of $777.77.

1993: Thomas Jefferson’s 250th Birthday

Probably the most spectacular Founder’s Day (other than 1943) was the 1993 celebration of Thomas Jefferson’s 250th Birthday. On that day the Glee Club rolled out of bed early, put on our orange and blue ties, khakis and blue blazers, and took a bus up the mountain to Monticello to join a live broadcast of the Today Show. There we stood on risers in the pre-dawn moonlight with Jefferson’s home in the background and sang several numbers from Neely Bruce’s “Young T.J.,” commissioned for the day.

There was a certain amount of standing around and waiting, and at one point several of us had to make a trip to the restroom, where we found ourselves standing next to Willard Scott making awkward small talk. A few guys had an encounter with another Today Show personality when they met UVA alumna Katie Couric after the taping and gave her a VMHLB hat.

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After Monticello, everyone piled into the bus (and an overflow car) and drove like crazy. We only had two hours to get to DC and the Jefferson Memorial, where we were to sing for the President. Traffic mostly cooperated and we arrived later than planned but in time to sing in the ceremony. I’ve written about that part of the day before.

We closed the day with a bus ride to Richmond, where we sang for a group of UVA donors at the Jefferson Hotel, somehow changing into our tuxedoes somewhere along the way.

Finding no takers

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Doing my look back post, I found one link I never followed up, in which I talked about a plan to restore the Pavilion gardens (wonder what happened to that?), and noted a rare Walt Kelly cover for the Virginia Spectator that I had seen reproduced in black and white but not (yet) in color. In the intervening years, fantastic Pogo blog Whirled of Kelly posted a high resolution scan of the cover, which I include here to close the loop on my reference all those years ago.

This is one of two issues of the University of Virginia’s magazine (variously titled the Spectator, the Virginia University Magazine, etc.) for which I would pay a high high price. The other, of course, would be a copy of the January 1871 edition that gives us the founding date for the Virginia Glee Club.

Fossils on the bench

As I celebrate the appointment of a fellow Glee Club alum to the bench of the fifth judicial district in Virginia, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the company he joins of fossils who’ve been judges.

John W.G. Blackstone (1879–1880 season). Blackstone (1858–1911) was one of the more notable politicians of the 1879–1880 class (Wilson aside), serving in the Virginia State Senate from 1884 to 1896 when he was appointed the county judge for Accomac and serving as a judge on the Eighth and Eleventh Judicial Circuits until his retirement in 1908.

Oliver Whitehead Catchings (1891–1892 season). At Virginia, he was a law student, captain and quarterback of the football team, member of Phi Kappa Psi, the Z Society and Eli Banana, and editor of both Corks and Curls and College Topics. He completed law school at Virginia and practiced law in Washington, DC while his father, Thomas Clendinen Catchings, was in Congress, then returned with his father to Vicksburg to establish the practice of Catchings & Catchings. He was appointed judge of the 9th Mississippi District in 1905, and died unexpectedly of heart disease in 1916.

Duncan Lawrence Groner (between 1894 and 1896). As Wikipedia records, Groner served as a judge of the Eastern District of Virginia and as chief justice for the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, as well as serving six years in the United States Senate for Virginia.

George Latham Fletcher (seasons between 1895 and 1898, music director 1897–1898). A member of the Z Society and Eli Banana, he practiced law, served as judge of the 28th Judicial Circuit of Virginia in Warrenton, and served two terms as a state senator. Possibly the most memorable case over which he presided as judge was the divorce of future Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson from her first husband, in 1927.

Frederick Garner Duval (1905–1906 season). A member of T.I.L.K.A. and the dramatic troupe the Arcadians while at Virginia, Duval was an attorney in Alexandria and later became civil police justice there.

Sheffey Lewis Devier (1917–1918 season). Devier practiced law in Harrisonburg, and served as both a justice of the peace and judge of the juvenile and domestic relations court for Rockingham County. He later served a term as mayor of Harrisonburg.

Absalom Nelson Waller (from 1922 to 1925). Vice president of the Glee Club, he served as a county judge in Spotsylvania County for 32 years.

Robert Fitzgerald (1939–1940 season). An engineering student at Virginia, he served in the US Marine Corps during World War II at the Pacific front and and was discharged a second lieutenant. He practiced law in Falls Church, was appointed a trial judge in Fairfax County, and was later elected to the Virginia Senate.

Charles Stevens Russell (from 1945 to 1948). A Raven, he was appointed to the Seventeenth Judicial Court of Virginia in 1962, and served there until he joined the Virginia Supreme Court in 1982, retiring in 1991.

Edward Earle Zehmer (from 1949 to 1951). Another Marine, Zehmer practiced law for 23 years before his appointment to the First District Court of Appeal in Florida in 1983.

There are probably other still-living Glee Club fossils who sit on the bench, but those are the ones we know of for now. So my friend is in very good company!

The fabric of the University

 
Members and alumni of the Virginia Glee Club have contributed many things to the University, from musical theater to classical performances to “The Good Old Song.” But until this weekend I didn’t know that they had also contributed a piece of the University’s facilities.

I read through the 1905 edition of Corks and Curls in the San Francisco airport Friday morning. (I know, I know: the high life.) I found a page on the 1904-1905 Glee Club that I had previously missed. It listed two Humes, Howard and John, as among the officers of the combined Glee and Mandolin Clubs. Over the weekend I did some research on them.

Howard Hume, it turns out, was quite the adventurer. A physician, he got an officers’ commission in the Army Reserves in 1913 and went to Europe as a surgeon attached to the British Army during World War I. He was head of surgery and later head of the hospital at a series of camps, forts and other army posts for the next few years, even spending a few years on Corregidor in the 1930s. He continued to serve in Army hospitals across the American south in his early 60s during World War II.

His brother John Edmund Norris Hume worked as an engineer for GE. We know less about his background, except for one sentence in the finding note for the archives of the president of the University, John Newcomb: “J.E.N. Hume-Memorial Fountain.”

John and Howard were the sons of Frank Hume, Civil War veteran and noted producer of whiskey in Alexandria at the turn of the century. And apparently John was the major donor for the fountain and wall—the Hume Memorial Fountain, with its whispering wall—that once sat in front of Monroe Hall and now is at the end of Newcomb Plaza.

So Glee Club alumni have contributed not only song, but also physical monuments to the University.

Virginia secret societies and North Korea

On Sunday, details emerged in the case of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student being detained in North Korea after an arrest two months ago as he prepared to depart the country. In a televised press conference, Warmbier confessed to attempting to steal a banner bearing a North Korean revolutionary slogan. He apologized for his “severe” crime and said that he was encouraged to commit the crime by the Friendship United Methodist Church, the Z Society, and the CIA. He begged for mercy, saying, “I beg that you see how I was used and manipulated. My reward for my crime was so much smaller than the rewards that the Z Society and the Friendship United Methodist Church get from the United States administration.”

Let me be clear: I’m very worried for Warmbier and don’t mean to make fun of his captivity, and hope he is returned soon. But to be honest, were the stakes not so high, this would read like world class trolling. For one thing, it’s pretty unlikely that the UMC is involved in funding petty theft of the sort practiced by university students with road signs on their walls all over the world. But what is the likelihood that the Z Society is involved?

Answer: pretty low. While you can choose to accept or not the Z Society’s denial of contact with Warmbier, the likelihood of their encouraging international hooliganism is quite low. The Z Society has always been the most staid of the University’s semi-secret societies, especially when compared with Eli Banana and their tradition of public processions with a huge bass drum, or the IMPs and their devil costumes and pyromania (not to mention their predecessors’ fun with taxidermy).

So: I think Warmbier is being forced to confess to his crime by a North Korean government that employs scriptwriters with overactive imaginations and inadequate research. If you’re going to frame an undergraduate for espionage, at least blame the right secret society.

Hot Feet: Lewis D. Crenshaw

Lewis Dabney Crenshaw, Paris 1918, courtesy UVA Special Collections.
Lewis Dabney Crenshaw, Paris 1918, courtesy UVA Special Collections.

On an airplane flight yesterday that had (extremely slow) WiFi, I did a little research and came across some more information about Lewis D. Crenshaw, the UVa alum who co-authored the football song “Hike, Virginia” and put together the first modern UVa reunions in 1914.

I remain awed by his tireless energy as UVA Alumni Association Secretary, particularly by his work as the director of the University’s European Bureau during World War I. But I hadn’t fully appreciated his student involvement. In a career that included a law degree, he was at one time or another a member of Delta Tau Delta, Phi Delta Phi, Lambda Pi, the O.W.L., P.K., the Raven Society, vice-president of the Arcadians, on the board of the Athletic Association, and King of the Hot Feet.

If that last one doesn’t resonate with you, the Hot Feet were the predecessor group of the University’s IMP Society, given to elaborate rituals and a certain degree of hooliganism. According to University historian Virginius Dabney, they were apparently disbanded after a 1911 prank:

One of their more raucous nighttime performances consisted of removing the stuffed animals, snakes, and other varmints from the Cabell Hall basement, where they were stored, and stationing them behind the professors’ classroom desks and in front of their residences on the Lawn. This assemblage, which included a kangaroo, a tiger, an ostrich, a moose, boa constrictor, threetoed emu, and other animals, fowls, and reptiles, greeted the dumbfounded citizenry on Easter Sunday morning. On top of this, some well-lubricated Hot Feet bulled their way into a student’s room, roughed him up, and carried off a beer stein.

But at the time of Crenshaw’s Kingship, the Hot Feet were known mostly for their elaborate public coronations, costumes, and their public singing. Bringing it back to the Glee Club, the tune of their “Hot Feet Song” is the tune to the football song “Hike, Virginia”—unsurprising, given that both Crenshaw and his co-author Charles S. McVeigh were Hot Feet!

I close with an image of Crenshaw in full “King of the Hot Feet” regalia, presumably dating from long after his Kingship. I will say this: whatever the mischief that the Hot Feet got into, it looks like they had a hell of a lot of fun.

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The first Glee Club reunion

Virginia Glee Club presidents at the 140th anniversary alumni sing (2011) — photo courtesy Jeff Slutzky
Virginia Glee Club presidents at the 140th anniversary alumni sing (2011) — photo courtesy Jeff Slutzky

We’re in the run-up to the Virginia Glee Club 145th Anniversary Reunion, and that has me thinking about the history of Glee Club reunions.

The earliest record of Glee Club involvement in a reunion activity predates both the Glee Club as a well-established organization and formal reunions at the University of Virginia. In an article published in the Virginia University Magazine in October 1882 describing the final exercises of the previous June, this description occurs:

In the afternoon came the Alumni dinner whereat many of the young initiates forgot themselves and waxed uproarious–especially to be noticed was a sober minded one who insisted on drinking to the health of the “Glee Club” after every song in which performances his stentorian lungs did effective service.

So before there were Glee Club reunions, there were alumni at University functions who were involved with the Glee Club.

The next reunion was likely the 50th Anniversary concert in 1936. I say “likely” because we don’t have a record of an actual reunion event, but we do have evidence that there was going to be, thanks to the listing of the Glee Club’s Alumni Advisory Board in the 1935 Annual Concert program.

After that the record is murky. The next one for which we have a record is the 125th Anniversary in 1996 (in between these two we changed the founding date from 1886 to 1871 based on better evidence). This established the format for future reunions: a Glee Club performance, an alumni sing, a banquet.

Regular five year reunions began in 2006 with the establishment of the Virginia Glee Club Alumni and Friends Association and the 135th anniversary. Reunions have followed at five year intervals since then. If you haven’t done so, it’s fun to check out the photos, video, and audio from the 140th.

“In the evening, by the moonlight”

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Cover to the April 1938 issue of the Virginia Spectator

I had a lucky eBay find last week: a copy of the April 1938 issue of the Virginia Spectator, the successor to the University of Virginia Magazine and the original University of Virginia literary mag. These magazines aren’t especially valuable, though they only turn up infrequently. What made this one stand out was an article by a Virginia Glee Club member, Daniel Jenkins, about the state of song at the University.

Jenkins is an alum I’ve known about for some time. When I was an undergrad, he sent us a letter about his experience as a Glee Club member in the 1930s. I subsequently discovered that he had been a member of the Tin Can Quartet (which I wrote about a while ago) He is, I believe, still with us and still supporting the Glee Club’s endeavors, though I don’t know much about his whereabouts.

This article provides one of the earliest existing descriptions of Glee Club alumni singing:

On Saturday nights of Finals, however, a minor miracle took place. Gathered in and around a certain room on East Lawn were a goodly number of dark conspirators; six members of the class of 1912 had slipped away from their comrades, bearing with them a huge Mason jar containing a mint julep, and were on their way to join the group lurking in the shadows of East Lawn. Three members of the Tin Can Quartet, a dozen members of the Glee Club, past and present, and an odd assortment of dates waited expectantly as the six alumni approached. And then, a short five minutes later—ah, shades of the mighty Caruso!—it had been a long year—the soft, harmonious tones of “Sweet Adeline” once again rolled up and down the Lawn. The same moon shimmered through the trees and the same purple shadows mingled with the ghostly figures that stood grouped beneath a stately oak. A prominent and dignified New York attorney gazed up at the stars and hit notes of which he had never before believed himself capable. A notorious “big business man” drowned the sorrows of a troubled world in his Mason jar and gazed down at the green sod beneath his feet, rumbling a potent bass that seemed to mingle with the very roots of the mighty oak which towered above him.

For three hours the singing continued. They sang every song that ever graced a barbershop of old. Juleps were plentiful and so were first tenors—happy coincidence. But finally, at four o’clock in the morning, and when voices were so hoarse that anything above a whisper was an effort, the small crowd began to break up. The six alumni, their eyes tired but shining, stumbled wearily across the Lawn, speaking in reverent tones of the song-fests that used to be so common and now are so rare. The others, lingering for a brief moment over the dregs, said good-night and went their separate ways. The Lawn was once again cloaked in silence.

I was unsurprised, but a little disappointed, to find that even this memory carried the taint of the South’s original sin, though, with the inclusion of the minstrel show song “In the Evening, By the Moonlight.” Again, a reminder that the Glee Club was like every Southern cultural institution and carried the seeds of slavery’s past with it into the twentieth century.

But the article gives me hope, too, that the power of song can still bridge generations and tap deeper reserves of humanity in the singer and the listener. It’s a timely reminder, given the Glee Club’s upcoming 145th Reunion celebration in April. I hope the juleps are plentiful then too.

Glee Club history: Edward Addison Craighill Jr.

E.A. Craighill, 1893 Corks and Curls
E.A. Craighill, 1893 Corks and Curls

I’ve written a few times about one of the Virginia Glee Club’s more notable alumni, Edward Addison Craighill, Jr., who is principally credited with the authorship of the “Good Old Song,” the de facto alma mater song of the University of Virginia. But I thought it might be worth looking at his life beyond this song.

Craighill was born in 1873 in Lynchburg, Virginia. His namesake, his uncle, surgeon Edward Addison Craighill, had been at age 17 the youngest doctor to serve in the Medical Department of the Confederate Army, and wrote a memoir of his experiences. Craighill entered the University of Virginia to study law in 1892, and was there to greet the football team in the fall of 1893 as they returned triumphant from a victory. Out of the crowd came what is now the first verse of “The Good Old Song.” Craighill subsequently wrote a second and, for an alumni banquet in 1910, a third verse for the song. But in a 1922 article in the University of Virginia Magazine, he disclaimed authorship of the first stanza, noting that “no one man should be credited with the authorship.” During his time at Virginia he was a member of the Virginia Glee Club and participated in the 1894 tour.

Craighill graduated in 1895 from the Academic Department and finished his law degree in 1896, gaining employment as a writer for a law encyclopedia before joining the firm of Fletcher, McCutcheon and Brown in New York. He died in 1948.

I think there’s something touching about Craighill’s insistence, 30 years after the debut of the song, that he deserved no credit for the “Good Old Song.” It’s not clear that, after the 1922 article, he was included in alumni outreach. He’s not mentioned in a 1935 “Alumni Advisory Board” that included other past presidents and luminaries of the group, for instance. But his name remains one of the most cited in Glee Club programs, and I believe he deserves more credit than he gave himself for the song. After all, in the drunken crowd that came up with “it cheers our hearts and warms our blood to hear them shout and roar,” someone had to remember the words well enough to write them down.