The motto of the Morehouse College Glee Club, written by alumnus Claude Jones, states: “The Morehouse College Glee Club is an eminent expression of brotherhood, a united force of dedication and commitment and an unselfish labor of love.” This succinctly encapsulates the essence of the Morehouse College Glee Club. The Morehouse College Glee Club is the official singing organization of Morehouse College and has had a rich history of sharing music and the college with audiences all over the world. The Glee Club has a tradition of singing a diverse repertoire, including standard classical choral literature, music of African American composers, and heritage music such as spirituals, work songs, and African Music.
The origins of the Morehouse College Glee Club precede its official founding date. From 1903 until 1911, Georgia Starr, Lucy Z. Reynolds, and Grace D. Walesman directed the choral ensemble and a small orchestra at the college. Edmund Jenkins, a brilliant music student, also led both groups. In the fall of 1911, Kemper Harreld assumed directorship of these two groups and officially founded the Glee Club when he joined the college’s music faculty. He was an accomplished violinist who graduated from the Chicago Music College with further study in Berlin. Mr. Harreld originally planned to stay at Morehouse College for one year, but ended up serving the college as director of the Glee Club and chairman of the music department for 42 years. A former student of Dr. Harreld, Dr. Wendell Phillips Whalum—a Morehouse College graduate and Glee Club alumnus—assumed directorship after Dr. Harreld’s departure. Dr. Whalum, affectionately known as “Doc,” was a renowned conductor, organist, lecturer, and arranger. In the fall of 1987, David E. Morrow assumed directorship of the Glee Club. A student of Dr. Whalum and Morehouse alumnus, he returned to his alma mater as a part of the music faculty and as assistant director of the Glee Club.
The Glee Club has had many notable performances throughout the years. The Glee Club sang for the funeral services of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and for the Second International Choral Festival at Lincoln Center. The members of Glee Club performed for the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter in 1977 and in the East Room of the White House with Coretta Scott King in 1978. In the Spring of 1987, the Glee Club recorded “I’m Buildin’ Me a Home,” arranged by former Glee Club member Uzee Brown, Jr., for the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s movie “School Daze” and sang with soprano Jessye Norman in a concert celebrating the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. The members also performed, along with other choruses from the Atlanta University Center, the National Anthem with Natalie Cole for Super Bowl XXVIII. In addition, they sang with Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, and Trisha Yearwood in the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games held in Atlanta.
The Glee Club has also performed internationally. In 1972, The Glee Club sang for a three-week-long, State Department sponsored tour of five African countries. The Glee Club toured for two weeks in cities along the Volga River in Russia in 1996, sang in Poland in 1998, and performed concerts in Bermuda in 2001.
The members of the Glee Club have earned such honors as the Merrill Travel Study Award for overseas experience, Who’s Who Among American Colleges and Universities, and Phi Beta Kappa. The members do not receive academic credit; instead, they sing for enjoyment and as a labor of love. The Glee Club is open to all majors offered by the college, and members come from all over the world.
The Morehouse Glee Club proves that being part of a glee club is about more than just singing. It provides students with an opportunity to travel and do things they never dreamed possible. If students love to sing and want to be a part of a rich tradition, they should look into the glee clubs offered at HBCUs across the country. You never know where it may take you!