New Exhibit Opens at the Sousa Archives

Robert Shaw, 1984 (left) and Elaine Brown, ca. 1960 (right)

The Sousa Archives’ latest exhibition, “Singing Cities: American Choral Directors Leading the Nation in Song,” which opened last week at the University of Illinois’ Krannert Center for the Performing Arts for the American Choral Directors Association’s (ACDA) 2023 conference, has been moved to the Center for the rest of the school year.  The Sousa Archives acquired the ACDA archives in January 2022.

During the Great Depression and World War II, American audiences listened and danced to Big Band performances. But during the post-war period, many Americans began listening to more choral music. People celebrated the war’s end by communal singing in churches, and in community, high school, college, and professional choirs.

Americans were already listening to choirs on weekly radio programs like Fred Waring & the Pennsylvanians. During the late 1960s, Robert Shaw’s Choir in Atlanta became popular. The Winter Olympic Committee selected Charles Hirt, a choral director from Los Angeles, to direct a choir at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. Following this, Walt Disney asked Hirt to conduct a series of concerts at Disneyland’s Main Square USA in the early 1960s.

Nearly fifteen years before the Civil Rights movement gained national visibility, Elaine Brown, the director of Singing Cities in Philadelphia, included African Americans in her choir. Brown was also the director of choral music at Temple University, one of many universities where choral music grew in importance.

Meanwhile at the University of Illinois, Harold Decker established the first doctoral degree program for choral conducting, causing Decker and the University of Illinois to become leaders in the movement to educate generations of choral directors.

This exhibit highlights the work of four of America’s leading 20th-century choral directors who shaped the nation’s choral music traditions: Robert Shaw, Elaine Brown, Harold Decker, and Charles Hirt.

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