History of the Men's Glee Club
First established in 1889, the Washington and Lee Men's Glee Club has a long history of excellence. Originally established as a student group, the Glee Club became a permanent organization on campus in 1893. Shortly thereafter, the Glee Club gave its first major documented performance in Lynchburg, Virginia. Remarkably resilient, the early Glee Club not only survived through multiple directors, many of whom lasted for only a year, but thrived. In partnership with the W&L Theatre group of the time, the Troubadours, the Glee Club produced multiple productions at the Lexington Opera House including Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial By Jury and H.M.S. Pinafore.
As the Glee Club moved into the new century, it continued to grow and improve. Many of the members experimented with composition to great success. Among the many songs composed by Glee Club members, the most famous is unquestionably "The Washington and Lee Swing." Composed by Mark W. Sheafe ('06) with lyrics by Clarence A. Robbins ('11), "The Swing" has become the official fight song of Washington and Lee as well as many high schools across the country. In fact, in 1942 the Thornton W. Allen Co. in New York published a collection of Washington and Lee music featuring "The Swing."
September, 1938, ushered in a new era for the Glee Club with the appointment of Dr. John Varner to the English department.
Formerly the director of the University of Virginia Glee Club, Varner brought renewed energy and direction to the men of Washington and Lee. In 1939, Varner lead the Glee Club to Washington, D.C. to compete in the Fred Waring Glee Club contest at the Capitol Theatre. The W&L Glee Club beat five other ensembles from Virginia and Maryland to win the contest gaining much attention. As Varner continued to work with the men of Washington and Lee, the Glee Club rocketed to new heights of recognition.
Bursting its way onto the national stage, the Glee Club was invited to participate in the prestigious Fred Waring "Pleasure Time" Glee Club competition. W&L, one of the smallest schools competing, beat seventeen other schools in their group to move on to the finals. On Friday, May 29, the Glee Club caught a train from Buena Vista to New York City to compete in the national finals against the University of Rochester, Duke, Elmhurst, the University of Oklahoma, Dartmouth, Purdue, and Redlands. Although W&L did not take the top honors, the Glee Club gained national attention from the competition as well as a chance to sing in Carnegie Hall. On an interesting note, while in New York, each glee club was assigned an up and coming conductor to help them prepare. The Washington and Lee Glee Club was assigned the then rather unknown 26-year-old Robert Shaw. Over fifty years later, Shaw would once again work with the singers of Washington and Lee at the opening of the Lenfest Center in 1991.
Robert Stewart, the first professor of music at Washington and Lee, took over the direction of the Glee Club in 1954. Stewart arranged many pieces for the Glee Club and once again brought it to national attention. In 1967, the Glee Club was invited to sing at the Montreal Expo in Montreal, Canada. As part of the fine arts section of the exhibit, the Washington and Lee Glee Club joined participants from more than 70 nations contributing to the Expo. The Glee Club gave three concerts during the Expo to overall applause.
In the next thirty years, the Glee Club would continue to grow under the direction of James Tucker Cook (‘68-'73) and Dr. Gordon Spice ('73-'9?). Serving as ambassadors for the university, the Glee Club travelled both nationally and internationally touring such countries as England, Mexico, Germany, Austria, and Jamaica. In 1984, the Glee Club successfully survived coeducation of the university. Unfortunately, the Men's Glee Club was disbanded in 1992 shortly after the creation of the University Chamber Singers. Reformed in 2010, the Washington and Lee Men's Glee Club, under the direction of the current Director of Choral Activities Shane M. Lynch, is quickly growing and ready to continue the Glee Club's long history of excellence.