Yesterday’s post on the Cabell House is a fiber in an ongoing thread of an investigation to understand the earliest members who took part in the Virginia Glee Club. We know from the January 1871 issue of the Virginia University Magazine that “those gentlemen rooming at the Cabell House, and in that neighborhood, have made great efforts, and we understand tolerably successful ones, to form a Glee Club.” We seek now to understand who “those gentlemen” are.
More fools, we. As one digs deeper into the history of the house, one turns up a handful (only) of references to it in official University and Charlottesville publications. One of those identified a Miss Pattie J. Daffan as the proprietor of the Cabell House. Another publication placed her as the proprietor of a boarding house at 852 West Main Street, only a block from where the Cabell House was supposed to be. It seems pretty clear that this was the actual address of the Cabell House.
Why, one may ask, is this exciting? Well, partly because it’s important to know where to pay homage to our as-yet-unknown founding fathers. But also because the property between 9th and 10th on West Main Street is a Hampton Inn, but the property at 852 West Main Street is World of Beer (as well as apartments). Surely a World of Beer is a better location for our Glee Club than a motel.
Twenty-five years ago this month, the Virginia Glee Club toured the South. Among other stops on that august journey, we found schlonic columns in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; sang a church service in Atlanta, Georgia; improbably survived a day off in New Orleans; and sang in the state senate chambers in Jackson, Mississippi, where a UVA Law alum named (equally improbably) Hob Bryan had served since 1984. He remembered the Glee Club and its performances of “the Ave Maria” from his graduate school days, and invited us to sing when he learned we were on the road.
Many things have changed in the intervening twenty-five years (though the use of the Confederate battle flag in the Mississippi State Flag is not one of them). But I find it reassuring that this group of men, this “fraternity of talent,” not only has survived but also thrives, now backed by a strong endowment and an active alumni board. I find it even more reassuring that they continue to tour and to chart their own history.
Today’s adventure into the musical past of the University of Virginia comes courtesy of my sense of curiosity. I had often seen the statement (starting with Virginius Dabney’s fine history of the University, Mr. Jefferson’s University) that “Virginia, Hail, All Hail” and “The Cavalier Song” were winners of a competition sponsored by the student newspaper, College Topics, for the best fight song and alma mater song. It occurred to me that I had repeated that claim in several places, including on Wikipedia, without actually checking the primary source.
I had a little downtime on Saturday and paged through copies of College Topics from early 1923—thanks, Google. What I found surprised and amused me a little.
Discovery one: The contest was not widely subscribed. On January 19, 1923, with twelve days left in the running, Topics ran the following article:
So apparently, even in this more musical time, students and alumni were not pounding down the door to provide original songs.
Discovery two: The competition was not specifically to find an alma mater song or fight song; it was more generally about getting more original songs written about the University and was open to both students and alumni.
Discovery three: The organizers weren’t wild about the winners! On February 16, in announcing the winners, they said the following: “The Committee desires to thank those who submitted songs and to congratulate the winners. It is hoped that the contest will stimulate the student body and alumni to greater effort to give Virginia a still better group of songs with original music.” This attitude may explain why “Virginia, Hail” was not more widely adopted outside the Glee Club. Also of note: neither of the second place winners were Glee Club members, while two of the three first place winners were associated with the Club.
Here’s the article from that day, minus the texts of the winning songs:
I still have one more piece of research to perform, since I haven’t seen the original announcement of the competition. Google News archives doesn’t have College Topics from December 1922, and I can’t find a copy of the December 1922 Alumni News on line either. But I’m a little closer to having good information than I was.
UVA Today: Beneath the Mews. As I noted on Facebook, this article covers a plethora of my interests. University of Virginia archaeologists, working underneath the floor of an outbuilding to Pavilion III, have discovered traces of an original Jeffersonian serpentine wall below where slaves were once housed—and where Virginia Glee Club conductor Harry Rogers Pratt and his wife Agnes Rothery once lived.
Pavilion III, currently undergoing a minor renovation, is said to be one of the few pavilions not to have suffered substantial exterior structural additions or alterations from its Jeffersonian incarnation. Apparently this extends to its mews, which an official Historic American Buildings Survey notes was “constructed between 1829–1830 [and] … is visible over the north garden wall.”
Which means, of course, that the Mews was the outbuilding that was visible from the rear window of my Lawn room when I lived in 3 West in 1993-94.
The other thing that’s striking about this recent announcement is the matter-of-fact inclusion of the following statement, which would have been highly controversial even when I was a student:
“In its early years, [The Mews] served as a quarters for enslaved people, and may also have served before 1865 as a washhouse and apparently, a chicken house,” said Kirt von Daacke, co-chair of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University. “The building is important because it is one of only a handful of extant structures where enslaved people lived and worked.”
So this fixture of the landscape was silently, unremarked-on, a remnant of the secret history of slavery at the University of Virginia. I say “secret” because it was absolutely never discussed when I was a student. The guides would deny that the rooms beneath the student rooms on the East Lawn housed slaves, when it was clear in retrospect that they must have. No one talked about the fact that much of the original Jeffersonian plant was built with slave labor. And yet it was all around us. If you want an example of how screwed up America’s relationship to reality and its own history is, that’s as good as any.
Aside: the photo at the top of the post is of the front façade of the Pavilion because apparently no one takes pictures of the rear garden. It is emblematic of the history of slavery at the University that this staggeringly well-photographed Jeffersonian residence has very few photographs published of its back gardens and outbuildings. Even in the recent IATH project to create and render 3D models of the buildings, they appear to exist in a vacuum, without outbuildings.
One of the most beloved traditions of the Virginia Glee Club is its mascot, the pink lawn flamingo affectionately named Wafna. She has been a tradition for “living memory,” meaning since before I was a member from 1990 to 1994. But how did such a rare and unusual bird become the mascot of a 145-year-old men’s chorus? The answer, surprisingly, is a little shrouded in mystery.
…et qui mane me quaesierit in taberna
post vesperam nudus egredietur,
et sic denudatus veste clamabit:
Wafna, wafna! quid fecisti, Sors turpissima?
nostrae vitae gaudia
But how did the name get to be attached to a pink lawn flamingo? And when? The “why” is probably the association of the members of the Glee Club with naked drinking in taverns.
As to when: on March 1, 1987, the Glee Club performed Orff’s Carmina Burana together with the University Singers, the Virginia Women’s Chorus, and the Charlottesville University and Community Symphony Orchestra. By the fall of 1987, there was a pink flamingo named Wafna who hung out at 5 West Lawn. Who acquired the flamingo and who did the naming are lost to history, but it seems pretty certain to have happened between those dates.
What is not lost is Wafna’s continued role in Glee Club lore. Her most dramatic moment was the colonization of the Lawn with more than a dozen Wafna-alikes a few years ago, but she also lives on in tour tshirts (like the one at the top), cocktail glasses, bottle openers, and of course as a pink lawn flamingo, who appeared at events at the 145th anniversary reunion weekend to lift our spirits.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Speaking of eight years in, I missed a day of posting yesterday due to the Veracode sales kickoff, so I’m going to do a two-fer today to make up.
With the past weekend’s killer storm in DC and Charlottesville (as well as most of the rest of the mid-Atlantic), I couldn’t help but thinking about ice gnomes. One of the great fun songs of my Virginia Glee Club days was singing “The Winter Song,” an odd little tune that… well, look at the lyrics:
jHo, a song by the fire;
Pass the pipes, pass the bowl.
Ho, a song by the fire
With a skoal, with a skoal.
Ho, a song by the fire;
Pass the pipes with a skoal,
For the wolf-wind is wailing at the doorways,
And the snow drifts deep along the road,
And the ice gnomes are marching from their Norways,
And the great white cold walks abroad.
But, here by the fire, we defy frost and storm;
Ha, ha we are warm, and we have our heart’s desire.
For here, we’re good fellows, and the beechwood and the bellows;
And the cup is at the lip in the pledge of fellowship.
I had always wondered about the tune, so did a little research. Turns out “The Winter Song”is a collegiate song, but it originally comes from Dartmouth, not Virginia. The poetry collection Dartmouth Lyrics prints the poem “Hanover Winter Song” by Richard Hovey, who in 1898 convinced his college friend Frederic Field Bullard to write the music.
The tune lived on in Dartmouth fraternity singing, until that tradition died away, and in Dartmouth singing groups such as the Aires. But it took John Liepold to bring it to the University of Virginia, where it’s become a favorite of the Glee Club.