Century of Singing

 Century of Singing
The Glee Club performed in Hawaii in January

It is unclear when a group of Tech men first harmonized and called themselves a glee club, but it is accepted that the singers represent the Institute's oldest student organization.

"The Glee Club was first started in 1906 and was composed of some eight or 10 men who would gather every afternoon under the Academic Building and practice," the Technique reported in an Oct. 9, 1917, article introducing new students to campus customs and clubs.

An Atlanta Constitution article dated June 20, 1907, records the group's roots a bit differently: "One of the great social organizations that helps to make the thorny path at Tech tread easier is a musical club organized last February under the suggestive title of the Tech Glee Club."

The vocalists of today's Georgia Tech Glee Club don't really care when the first song was sung. Director Jerry Ulrich said they already have started celebrating the centennial — in Hawaii. The Glee Club served as the ensemble-in-residence for the four-day Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities in January.

The Hawaiian holiday is just the latest high note in the storied history of the Georgia Tech Glee Club, which has traveled around the world on military transport planes, been surrounded by screaming girls and even referred to themselves as "heckuva engineers" to appease Ed Sullivan. After traversing through what Ulrich calls "hills and valleys," the male chorus is marking a century of melody making.

By October 1924, the club was so popular that it drew about 200 voices to the fall tryouts, according to the student newspaper. "Seventy-five survived the first cut. This number will later be cut down to 50 as soon as the management decides who are the sheep and who are the goats."

In 1926, the club broadcast on WGST radio three times and staged shows throughout the state. A March 19, 1926, review of one tour stop said, "Shorty Wiggins' act, which consists of a sort of Charleston clog, was the hit of the show, he being called back for encores so many times that he was completely exhausted and had to be helped off the stage."

Glee Club news routinely made the front page of the Technique. On Oct. 14, 1927, the selection of 35 singers made the front page alongside another headline: "Thousands greet Lindbergh on Grant Field."

There was little singing during the Depression and World War II. But after the war drew to a close the Glee Club enjoyed one of its most popular and wide-reaching eras as military transports flew the Tech men around the world. The conclusion of one such world tour resulted in a January 1951 headline in the Atlanta Constitution: "Tech Glee Club returns from 7,525-mile jaunt."

In 1953, Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town" attracted an estimated 30 million television viewers. The 50 Glee Club members auditioned for 28 seats on the train that would take them to New York. Three songs were planned — "Ramblin' Wreck," "There's Nothin' Like a Dame" and the alma mater.

Sullivan went beyond insisting that the men sing that they were "heckuva engineers," according to the Technique. "The club sang 'Dames' at rehearsal and brought down the house, only to have Sullivan give it the axe."

These days the Glee Club sings everything from rap to reggae, hymns to hip-hop. The club currently is in rehearsals for a concert at Spivey Hall, an April 3 event at the Clayton State University theater in Morrow, Ga., that will mark the official launch of the centennial season.

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Spring 2006