During the Great War, community singing became a popular activity for American troops and civilians alike. The practice quickly spread throughout the country and found a home in factories, department stores, movie theaters, and community centers. Even before the war, however, two extraordinary women were experimenting with community singing in the city of Baltimore. Their repertoire choices, presentation style, educational goals, and—most importantly—their enormous success influenced the practice of community singing over the next decade.
This paper explores the career and accomplishments of May Garrettson Evans, founder of the Preparatory Division at the Peabody Institute, and Henrietta Baker Low, Music Supervisor for the Baltimore School District and President of the Music Supervisors National Conference. In March 1915, these two women incorporated community singing into an orchestral program put on by the young musicians of the Preparatory Division. They advertised the novelty and hoped that it would attract a larger crowd than usual, but on the night of the concert they were astonished to find that the hall was packed, despite a torrential downpour. They continued to offer community singing at the Conservatory in the coming months, inviting attendees to sing uplifting and patriotic songs from books that were distributed at the door. In April, the president of the Baltimore Park Board invited Evans to stage her singing events in Patterson Park. By the end of the summer attendance had reached 2,500 at each weekly gathering, with participants singing from lyric sheets that had been printed the previous week in the Baltimore Sun.
Evans was a fascinating woman. In addition to overseeing the Preparatory Division at the Peabody, she was also the first female journalist for the Baltimore Sun, music supervisor for the Baltimore public schools, president of the national organization for music educators, and the author of five books. Low is remembered as a leading figure in music education, although she abandoned her formal roles upon her marriage in 1914. Their work as community singing organizers paved the way for other women to take on this role; even during the war, when song leaders were usually men, women often served as organizers and promoters.
This paper is based primarily on materials held in the archives and records of the Peabody Institute, including concert programs, photographs, and family scrapbooks. These sources are supplemented by articles from the Baltimore Sun.
This is a metadata-only record.
- Event date
11 November 2016
- Date submitted
18 July 2022
- Additional information
Esther Morgan-Ellis is Assistant Professor of Music History and World Music at the University of North Georgia, Dahlonega campus, where she also teaches cello and directs the orchestra. Dr. Morgan-Ellis writes about the American community singing movement of the early 20th century. In Fall 2017, the University of Georgia Press will be publishing her monograph on the topic of community singing in the motion picture palaces of the 1920s and '30s. Her writing has appeared in the journal American Music, and she has forthcoming articles in Musical Quarterly and the Journal for Historical Research in Music Education. Dr. Morgan-Ellis serves as Book Review Editor for the Bulletin of the Society for American Music and Secretary for the International Association of Popular Music, U.S. Branch.