The History of the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club
Compiled by Michael Ferrante, 1993-94
Edited and amended by Adrian Leskiw, 2003
The University of Michigan Men's Glee Club, organized in 1859, is the second-oldest collegiate chorus in the United States, and has long been acclaimed as one of the finest male choruses in the world. It is the oldest musical group on the campus, as well the oldest student organization at the University. Once only a group of six or eight men usually from only one academic class, it has blossomed into a group of 100 men typically representing the majority of the schools and colleges at the University of Michigan. The Men's Glee Club sets itself apart from other University choirs by way of its student leadership. From 1894 to 1908, the group was student-run and conducted. After 1908, a School of Music faculty member was added but served in an advisory capacity until the 1920's. Student leadership has continued to be a strong characteristic of the Glee Club. Its student officers are responsible for overseeing all of the operational aspects which include bookkeeping, planning tours, publicity, and fundraising.
The Glee Club has undergone many changes since its inception. During the 1860's and 1870's, there were separate Glee Clubs, which usually numbered somewhere in the tens or twenties, for each graduating class. In 1876, the classes came together to form the University Glee Club, which numbered eight men during its first year and then jumped to sixteen the next year. In 1890, the Glee Club was joined by a banjo club and in 1897 by a mandolin club. During the 1890's there was also a Freshmen Glee Club which continued into the first few years of the twentieth century. The concerts of those times featured combined numbers, along with each group having a separate part in the concert. The name of the group also changed with the addition of the ensembles. In 1897 the group was called the University Glee, Banjo, and Mandolin Club. In 1905, the Banjo Club ceased to exist, and in 1923, the Mandolin Club also dropped from the group and the group became simply the University of Michigan Glee Club. Due to the increasing popularity of the Girl's Glee Club in the 1930's, the group was renamed the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club in 1938, and in 1944 the group added "Varsity" to the title, but was dropped four years later. Finally, as an indicator of the cautious and businesslike 1980's, the group added "Inc." to its official name in 1989.
For a great part of the twentieth century, the Glee Club continued to improve by expanding its membership, maintaining a strong presence on the local entertainment scene, and by continuing the tradition of touring set forth by their earlier counterparts. During the founding of the Michigan Union in the early 1900s, Union Operas were held to raise money for the proposed building. Women were not allowed to act in these operas, so men played all the parts. Not surprisingly, the Glee Club played a prominent role in the operas, providing many of the singers and several of the composers. In fact, some of today's favorite Glee Club songs, such as The Bum Army and Ann Arbor Days, were originally written for the Michigan Union Operas. Concert tours in the early twentieth century were usually undertaken during Christmas break. These tours were by train, and the Glee Club manager would communicate with concert sponsors through telegrams. Most of these were local, but the Glee Club did take some extended tours, such as the "prairie states" tours in 1926 and 1941. Due to World War II the Club did not tour between 1942 and 1947, this 6 year period was the longest gap without tours since 1900.