Billed as “the South’s Sweetest Singers,” thirty members of the Emory Glee Club performed across Europe during the summer of 1953, singing in the open-air gardens of Edinburgh, at the University of Frankfurt, and in a London park.

Their melodious voices were broadcast from the studios of the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Voice of America, French National Radio, and the Armed Forces Network of Europe.

The Emory performers were also trapped on a train at the French border due to a railroad strike, slept on mattresses laid out on the floor of a school, and made do with mostly cold baths.

These memories came rushing back to Kenneth F. Murrah ’55C-’58L, an attorney in Winter Park, Florida, when he was cleaning a closet and found a stack of yellowed newspaper clippings and posters in various languages publicizing the Glee Club’s European concerts.

“The goodwill tour was fifty years ago this summer,” Murrah says. “Some members have died, and I’ve lost touch with others. But it was one of the most pleasant, enriching thirteen weeks I’ve ever spent.”

The summer of 1953 was a time of looking forward in America. Dwight Eisenhower was president, From Here to Eternity had just been released in theaters, and the Korean War was ending.

The idea of performing throughout Europe came from the Emory Glee Club members themselves, as a way to honor the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1928 Glee Club’s tour of England and Holland.

The all-male chorale raised their own money to fund the three-month tour. “We are about the luckiest Glee Club in the history of Emory,” said club president Joe Freeman.

Under the guidance of Malcolm Howard Dewey, professor emeritus of fine arts and director of the Glee Club since 1920, and his wife, Maybelle, the students left New York harbor on June 10, 1953. They settled into their stateroom bunks on the Holland-America liner S.S. Zuiderkruis for the week-long ocean voyage.

The Glee Clubbers mingled with other passengers and warmed up with a series of ship concerts. They also attended lectures by on-board professors on topics such as, “World Peace and International Understanding,” “Sightseeing in Paris,” and “The Meaning of the Creation and Downfall of Man.”

“Each day, we moved on across the deep waters and through the fog about another four hundred miles . . . pins were stuck into a map mounted in the lounge to indicate our progress,” wrote Glee Club bass Jackson P. Braddy ’54C-’57T, now a retired Methodist minister and information technologist, who sent dispatches back to his local papers, Georgia’s Manchester Mercury and Talbotton New Era.

On June 18, the group arrived in Southampton, England. Their travels during the coming weeks would take them through England, Scotland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, and France. The Club performed a variety of selections, from Bach’s “My Spirit be Joyful” to Stephen Foster’s “O Susanna,” although the most popular with European audiences were the Southern spirituals.

A German newspaper lauded the “high vocal quality” of the club after its performance in Cologne, and said the students “refuted the popular German idea that all Americans are gum-chewing, jazz-loving people.”

England, Germany, and many other countries were still showing the ruinous effects of wartime bombing, said Murrah, a Glee Club tenor. “We stayed in cities that had been liberated by American soldiers less than a decade before,” he said. “The devastation of [World War II] was still very apparent, even though the Marshall plan had been a huge success.”

After performing fifty-five concerts at universities, military bases, parks, and amphitheaters, the Glee Club returned to New York in mid-September. “Emory is proud of its reputation for excellence,” Emory President Goodrich C. White wrote in a letter to each singer. “And we well know that the Glee Club is one of our best channels for transmitting that ideal of excellence to the world at large.” Murrah and Braddy (kneeling, far left) still count that letter, and memories of the tour, among their most precious possessions.

“Those three months across Europe were indeed a life-shaping experience,” Braddy says. “The achievement, the inspiration, the confidence of that summer–all are still with me fifty years later.”–M.J.L.



© 2003 Emory University