Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, Host:

This is the Morehouse College Glee Club. And this year, the glee club is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Tonight, the group of 60 young men from the historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia will perform at New York's Lincoln Center, drawing from their diverse repertoire of spirituals, classic choral songs and standards, like this Norwegian folk song, "Brothers Sing On.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BROTHERS SING ON")

MOREHOUSE COLLEGE GLEE CLUB: (Singing) Brothers sing on, sing on.

CORNISH: Terrance McKnight of member station WQXR in New York has this profile.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HALLELUJAH")

COLLEGE GLEE CLUB: (Singing) Hallelujah, hallelujah. Hallelujah, hallelujah.

TERRANCE MCKNIGHT: From their arresting entrance, Morehouse College Glee Club concerts are marked by energy and dynamic subtleties. Their programs include classical choral music, a barbershop quartet, spirituals, arrangements and always this song:

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETELEHEMU")

COLLEGE GLEE CLUB: (Singing in foreign language)

MCKNIGHT: This is the Nigerian carol that they perform at every full concert. In performance, some of the singers come off stage shouting into the audience while African drums are center stage with the chorus behind them. This is their showstopper. They've been singing "Betelehemu" for almost 50 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETELEHEMU")

COLLEGE GLEE CLUB: (Singing in foreign language)

MCKNIGHT: Morehouse College in Atlanta was founded in 1867 and it's the only all-male historically black college in the nation. And almost from the beginning the glee club has been the school's official performing ambassadors. They've earned an international reputation through their annual national tours and have traveled through Europe, Africa and the Caribbean.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M BUILDING ME A HOME")

COLLEGE GLEE CLUB: (Singing) I'm building me a home, I'm building me a home...

They're known for their focused stage presence and musical precision, a wide ranging repertoire, their distinguished alumni and for this music, which was recorded for Spike Lee's Movie, "School Daze." Spike Lee is a graduate of the college.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M BUILDING ME A HOME")

COLLEGE GLEE CLUB: (Singing) I'm building me a home. This earthly house, this earthly house, is gonna soon decay, is gonna soon decay, and my soul gotta have, and my soul gotta have, somewhere to stay.

MCKNIGHT: Thousands of students have come through this glee club. I sang bass when I was a student there, as did former Secretary of Health Louis Sullivan. Martin Luther King Jr. was a tenor in the glee club and at his funeral in 1968, the glee club sang for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BALM IN GILEAD")

COLLEGE GLEE CLUB: (Singing) There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole...

MCKNIGHT: Singing at a brother's memorial, that's a longstanding glee club tradition. We call it closing ranks. And traditions are taken very seriously

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BALM IN GILEAD")

COLLEGE GLEE CLUB: (Singing) Gilead, to heal the sin-sick soul...

MCKNIGHT: David Morrow is the glee club's current director. He's only the third in the group's 100-year history. He took over when his teacher Wendall Whalum, who had been there 34 years, passed away in 1987. Dr. Morrow says that the club's strength has been its continuity.

DAVID MORROW: The things that I feel are just a huge amount of happiness that I have some part in getting us to be a 100 years old and feel successful and upholding the standards that were passed to me by my predecessors. I had some wonderful shoulders to stand on and I'm hoping that whoever succeeds me will find my shoulder as strong.

MCKNIGHT: Some of the standards that Dr. Morrow inherited and in turn teaches go beyond music. In glee club, we were taught that being on time meant being a few minutes early, and that our singing was a gift to the community. We were always reminded that some people in our audience may never have seen a group of black men in tuxedos, and so it was our duty to represent the highest standards of the college and of ourselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM")

COLLEGE GLEE CLUB: (Singing) Hallelujah, hallelujah...

MCKNIGHT: Former Secretary of Health Louis Sullivan attended this year's reunion.

LOUIS SULLIVAN: The Glee Club is really like a fifth fraternity on campus. We travel together, we plan together. So, this 100th anniversary is really a truly a remarkable event.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM")

COLLEGE GLEE CLUB: (Singing) Hallelujah...

MCKNIGHT: The anniversary year officially began in February at the glee club's reunion. And speaking with past and current members, adjectives like commitment, brotherhood and excellence still resonate in the organization. 2011 graduate James Grissom was the club's vice president. He said the glee club has made him ready for the next phase of his life.

JAMES GRISSOM: Over the past four years, the music of the glee club, the ministry of the glee club, the discipline have all been characteristics that have built me as an individual and as a man, and this moment culminates all of that. And as a reminder as a senior that as I move into the next phase of my life to take this discipline and this excellence that I've learned into every aspect of my life.

MCKNIGHT: Tonight at Lincoln Center, the sixty singers of the Morehouse College Glee Club will continue their historic anniversary celebration with a concert in Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. For NPR News, I'm Terrance McKnight.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BROTHERS SING ON")

COLLEGE GLEE CLUB: (Singing) It is time for brotherly...

CORNISH: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.