following year, one minstrel show was presented in the Woodlawn High School
auditorium, with a repeat performance at the Woodlawn Methodist Church.
Phil Walkley recalls that the shows cleared two hundred dollars, most
of which financed a party at the Naval Reserve on the Warrior River. The
tradition born with this, the second minstrel, was to continue down through
the years, taking the form of hayrides, house parties, and trips to Florida.
Clearly these annual Warblers socials became the highlight of the school
Some music sung in
the early minstrel shows was improvised locally with additions and deletions
made on an "as needed basis." Songs in this category included the opening
and closing chorus and "Oh Mona." Other songs were adopted from early
published versions - such as "We Meet Again Tonight." We duly note that
a few songs, those mentioned here being typical, have become an integral
part of Warblers Club tradition, woven as uninterrupted threads throughout
the history of the club.
continued annually with the tenth performance, labeled the Homecoming
Minstrel, having been presented January 12, 1940. In addition to the minstrels,
the Warblers gave a variety of other public performances, most of which
win be discussed later. The club's first public appearance was at the
Fountain Heights Methodist Church around 1930. The first major concert
to be presented by the club was the Matinee Recital on March 29, 1933,
at the Woodlawn High School auditorium and later at the old Howard College
campus located in East Lake.
The years of 1945
to 1960 represent an era which was filled with growth and tumultuous changes.
World War II was brought to a close with a mixture of joy and sadness,
since some of our Warblers from the earlier years failed to return. Soon
faculty changes also would bring a dramatic shift in the club leadership
when Mr. John Light retired from Woodlawn to devote all his time and energy
to private voice instruction. He was the club director for eighteen years.
New horizons for
the Warblers developed with the arrival of
Mr. Amos Hudson, a graduate from Birmingham-Southern College and the
Birmingham Conservatory of Music. Equally skilled as a singer and pianist,
he also possessed a musical sense of humor as evidenced by being the creator
of the highly successful quartet, the "Cat Mountain Four." Armed with
such credentials, the Warblers continued to flourish under his leadership
until his departure two years later for Columbia University in pursuit
of a Masters Degree.
At this time,
Mr. Joseph D. Turner, a graduate of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa,
a graduate of Woodlawn High School, and a Warbler, came "back home" in
1950 as a member of the music faculty. All these alterations in club sponsorship
were reflected by other subtle internal transitions. The size of club
membership began to expand from twenty voices to approximately forty-five.
The "brother" club, the Cavaliers, also began to grow and both clubs took
on new outward appearances. Gone were the long black choir robes. Presto!
Warblers appeared in eloquent white jackets bearing a "W" insignia in
gold and white. The Cavaliers burst forth in brilliant red jackets and
a golden "C" inscription. It should be mentioned that membership in both
clubs required singing a solo and then being voted on by the club members.
Voting by the Warblers was a way of conducting its affairs and making
Involvement in community
and school affairs began to take on mammoth proportions. Not only did
the Warblers participate in events which were already well established,
but they pioneered in producing new formats such as Stunt Night and a
Spring Music Festival involving the entire music department. As their
reputation continued to grow, so did the invitations to appear with community
organizations and events such as the Junior Miss Alabama pageants, the
Birmingham Civic Symphony, Alabama Education Association (AEA) conventions,
Boutwell Auditorium events featuring celebrities such as Jane Froman (With
a Song in My Heart), Marion Marlowe, Frank Parker, Raymond Burr (of Perry
Mason fame), and various telethon drives.
Thus the Warblers
continued to nurture a spirit of civic responsibility through their musical
performances for a wide variety of organizations including the Kiwanis,
Lions, Optimists, and so forth, a spirit that would extend into their
During the 1950's,
the popularity of the minstrel rose sharply and one matinee and one night
performances soon became five night performances and one matinee performance.
occurred and the first such change utilized by the club was the black
light in 1952. This was one of the most popular and effective features
of all the shows thereafter.
Scenery for the
shows grew more refined and elaborate involving many man-hours of work,
but provided a very pleasing backdrop for the shows. All scenery had to
be constructed, painted, and completed during the AEA holidays as that
was the only time the club had complete and uninterrupted access to the
Deep thought and
ingenuity came into play as Endmen entrances began to develop with each
succeeding show trying to go one better than the last; all resulting in
more lively entertainment and anticipation for the audience. Endmen made
their entrances in every conceivable way from coming out from under the
stage to descending from the ceiling of the auditorium. They never tired
of searching for new ways.
Club members gladly
spent their AEA holidays in preparation of the show in anticipation of
an even better show than the last.
The shows continued
over a span of years with the last or Farewell Minstrel (33rd annual)
being presented in 1963. This minstrel, as well as the club, received
an outstanding write up in the March 1963 issue of The Birmingham News.
The show featured old favorites of past minstrels. With the closing of
the stage curtains on the Farewell Minstrel, the end of an era had arrived.
No minstrels were
performed in 1964 and 1965, but concerts and public appearances continued.
Thanks to the ingenuity of its director, Mr. Joe "Uncle Joe" Turner, the
Warblers presented its first ever Hobo Show in 1966. The show, featuring
comedy and a variety of beautiful music, was such a success that it prompted
a second like show in 1968 which the Tatler called "The Second
Annual Hobo Convention." This was followed by the Third Hobo Show in 1969.
Due to popular demand, a Farewell Hobo Show was presented in 1970. In
1972, The Return of the Hobo Show was performed.
Though the club continued
to sing at school and community affairs and concerts, no further shows
were held after 1972.
After nearly twenty-seven
years of leading and conducting the Warblers Club, Mr. Turner retired
in 1976. At the conclusion of the 1977 school year, after being in existence
for nearly fifty years, the club created by Mr. John Light ceased to exist.
News article of March 14, 1963, previously mentioned, probably cast the
most appropriate glimpse into the true heart of the club itself and the
ideals for which it stood when it stated: "The old familiar songs, the
bright young talent, the roars of laughter and the burst of applause ......
in making reference to a minstrel. This description applied equally to
all occasions, whether it was a minstrel, concert, state competition,
Christmas festival, or Stunt Night. The club was young talent with a love
of the old songs and it thoroughly enjoyed producing comedy and entertaining
its audience which resulted in bursts of applause. The club was by no
means limited to a certain type of music. It performed a wide variety
of music such as a "Tribute to Irvin Berlin," "Broadway Fantasy," music
from "Porgy and Bess;" "The New Ashmolian Marching Society and Students
Conservatory Band," and even religious music to include such favorites
as "Let All the Nations Praise the Lord" and probably the most difficult
and beautiful of all, "The Hallelujah Chorus."
A most significant
honor received by the Warblers Club was an award presented by the Birmingham
Chapter of the Society
for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in
America (SPEBSQSA). A 1962 Tatler reported that the award was
for all Warblers from all times. The Certificate presented by SPEBSQSA
read as follows:
to the musical enjoyment and enlightenment of the people of Birmingham
by many years of high standard performances." "For fostering within
their audiences an appreciation for four part male vocal harmony; in
particular the barbershop style of singing."
"For the contribution
of many hours of time and talent in the preparation of their annual
'Warblers Minstrel Show and other activities."
The club made various
contributions to the school from moneys earned. These included a Steinway
piano, contributions toward the general sound system to all rooms, contributions
to beautify the exterior of the school and its grounds, a reproduction
machine, music for the entire music department, including the band, and
contributions to assist in the purchase of band uniforms. In later years,
the club presented the school with such gifts as an RCA stereo tape recorder,
four auxiliary speakers, twelve reels of tape, a phono-radio set, a black
and white portable television, and two microphones and two spot lights
for the auditorium. This was a way for the club to thank the faculty and
students for their ever continuing support and assistance.