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Popular Music at Georgetown, 1900-2015
Music has been at Georgetown since the beginning. The first music professor, Henry Demonti, was appointed in 1792. And Gaston Hall was designed with acoustics appropriate for formal concerts. Georgetown’s rich legacy of music also thrived through extra-curricular groups and on-campus guests throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. And in 2007, Music found a formal home with the creation of the Department of Performing Arts.
Before the widespread popularity of jazz in the 1920s, Georgetown students engaged with popular music through the Glee Club, Banjo Club, and Mandolin Club. The banjo and mandolin were experiencing a boom in popularity thanks to their increased incorporation into the arrangements of Tin Pan Alley songs. These groups presented formal concerts in Gaston Hall and even went on tour. The tickets shown here come from a combined club performance in Gaston Hall on February 5, 1900. The program page behind these items comes from a concert given by the clubs in 1915. This program reveals how these clubs interacted onstage and which tunes were popular with Georgetown students in the early 1900s.
The Jesuits have always tried to engage with popular music of the era, seeing popular music as an effective way to engage with a populace on their own terms. This dance program, for the “Georgetown Senior Hop,” held in Ryan Gymnasium November 14, 1914, features the specific listings of dances and accompanying popular songs. While the “One Step” is clearly the dominant dance form of the night, the instances of Fox Trot allude to the more rhythmic dances and popular songs that emerged from a jazz-infused Tin Pan Alley during the 1920s.
This photo gives an example of what Georgetown University student formal dances looked like in the early twentieth century. It was taken at Delta Sigma Pi's (the Professional Business Fraternity) Halloween Formal Dance, held on November 1st, 1924.
During the first two decades of the 20th century, students at Georgetown often relied on their own music making abilities for entertainment. Sheet music from publishing houses along New York’s “Tin Pan Alley” served as the primary means of distributing the era’s greatest hits. Featuring favorite tunes from Broadway musicals and vaudeville shows, much of the sheet music now housed in the library’s collection is a remnant of students’ free-time entertainment – when they gathered around the piano and sang – during the early twentieth century.
American composers of popular music became fascinated with the East, or “Orient” during the early decades of the 20th century. Thanks to technological developments in trans-oceanic travel and flight, far off destinations like India, China, and Indonesia became more accessible to the elite, and magazines published photojournalistic pieces for those who could only dream of traveling. “Moonlight on the Ganges” was a popular hit among Georgetown students. Composed by Sherman Myers (music) and Chester Wallace (words), this foxtrot evokes and exotic atmosphere through its use of exaggerated, South Asian musical cues. The tune was recorded by countless top-name bandleaders and artists, among them Paul Whiteman (1926), Glenn Miller (1942) and Frank Sinatra (1961).
To hear what this song has sounded like recorded, we present two versions: Paul Whiteman’s instrumental, recorded in 1926. And Frank Sinatra’s vocal version, recorded in 1961 for the album Swing Along With Me.
"Runnin' Wild" was a popular song first composed and recorded in 1922. Composed by A. Harrington Gibbs (music), Joe Grey and Leo Wood (words), the song undoubtedly appealed to Georgetown students because of its comical lyrics: “No gal will ever make a fool of me, No gal! I mean what I say; I ain’t the simpleton I used to be, Wonder how I got that way.” Duke Ellington and His Orchestra played a popular instrumental version of this tune at the Cotton Club in New York in the 1920s. And in 1959, Marilyn Monroe sang the song in the film Some Like it Hot.
Isham Jones (1894-1956) led one of the earliest bands to combine the improvisation of jazz with dance idioms in the 1920s. His recording of Wabash Blues in 1921 sold more than one million copies and his recordings for the Victor label (1932-35) were critically and commercially popular. A number of musicians who would go on to great acclaim performed with Jones’s band including Benny Goodman, Woody Herman and Bing Crosby, the last of whom made two recordings with the Jones band in a decidedly jazz style. Jones performed for the Junior Prom at Georgetown in 1935 and The Hoya notes that they were “undoubtedly the best band to play at a Georgetown Junior Prom for the last several years.”
Gene Krupa (1909-73) came to national prominence as the drummer for Benny Goodman’s big band in 1934. Krupa’s energetic and highly original style was highlighted on the Goodman recording of “Sing, Sing, Sing,” which features one of the first recorded drum solos. His appearance at Georgetown University in 1939 was as leader of his own ensemble for the annual Tea Dance. In an interview prior to the dance, Krupa claimed that he would “play sweet and hot as well as sweet and smooth.”
Throughout World War II, many of Georgetown’s formal dances became occasions to support the troops and commemorate the noble sacrifices and actions of students serving in the armed forces. This commemorative photo sleeve from 1944 shows that the dance was also an occasion to support and acknowledge War Bond purchasers. Georgetown hosted a series of “War Loan Dances” between 1940 and the end of the war. The fourth dance, in 1944, was hosted at the Federal Room of the Statler Hotel, now the Capitol Hilton.
Georgetown students have often had the pleasure of welcoming some of the most popular and talented artists of pop music to campus and/or formal events. The Fall Formal dance of 1945, hosted on December 8 in the New Ballroom of the Shoreham Hotel, now the Omni Shoreham Hotel, featured Les Brown & His Orchestra. Brown had gained significant popularity as a bandleader during the Swing Era of the 1930s, and he worked on several Hollywood films in the early 1940s. During this time Brown’s band saw the addition of vocalist Doris Day, who would later become one of America’s most beloved popular singers. Brown and Day kicked off the night’s festivities with “Sentimental Journey.” This song served as an anthem for many soldiers returning from World War II. For Georgetown students who had just returned from serving overseas, the Fall Formal offered a well-earned night of merriment.
After the end of the war, Hoyas shifted the focus of student-organized formal dances from fundraising for the troops to celebrating their comrades’ return. This formal, the “Hoya Reunion Ball,” was organized by a number of undergraduate and recent graduates, led by Mr. Richard Keenan (C 1947), to celebrate any and all living Hoya veterans of the US Armed Forces. The program here features the story of the Ball’s inceptions and even commentary on the year’s events by Georgetown’s mascot, Butch (Georgetown’s mascot wasn’t always a bulldog. Butch was a Great Dane). Next to the program is a letter from Dean Stephen McNamee, S.J., responding to Mr. Keenan’s request to cancel the classes on the original proposed date of the ball (May 22nd). In the true Jesuit fashion, Dean McNamee gave a well-worded, logical retort to Mr. Keenan’s request. Classes would not be cancelled. The ball was held nine days later, on May 31, 1946.
Leo O’Donavan S.J. may have his name carved into the stone above Georgetown’s current dining hall, but Edward Donovan’s (C 1911) name will always live on in the title of one of Georgetown’s hidden musical treasures. Donovan wrote “Here’s To the Blue and Gray” for Georgetown’s Glee Club in 1945. The rousing, Hoya-spirit anthem was a popular hit for the Glee Club, and was even added to the broadcast repertoire of the US Army Band by Lawrence Gorman, S.J. As the accompanying document reveals, Donovan filed for copyright of “Here’s To The Blue and Gray” in 1946.
Thanks to the GI Bill, many young veterans returning from World War II were able to enroll in elite universities like Georgetown for only a fraction of the cost. College attendance sky rocketed across the United States. Jazz was also enjoying a post-war boom, specifically the emerging “combo jazz” bands that originated from Bebop in the 1940s. With its connections to modernism and enchanting “coolness,” jazz enraptured the youth of America. Georgetown students caught the jazz bug, too. This program of a Georgetown Collegians concert represents, as they say in the notes, “Our first serious attempt at a jazz concert,” and consists of numbers spanning the six-decade, popular history of jazz. The group drew on a repertoire that included older popular songs (“Little Brown Jug,” written in 1869), standards (“I’ll Remember April”), and show tunes (“Love For Sale,” written by Cole Porter for the 1930 musical The New Yorkers). The program demonstrates how knowledgeable these Hoyas were about jazz theory, history, and performance. The entire roster of musicians is shown here as well. Note that the vocalist, female, was from a different school. Georgetown College did not admit women until 1969.
The relationship between Georgetown’s Jesuits and popular music for the majority of the 20th century was tenuous at best. But that did not stop Georgetown students. This formal invitation from the President of the Georgetown Collegians, trumpeter Jack Knoll (not to be confused with the English professor of the same name), to the Jesuit Community shows that the Collegian’s welcomed the Jesuits to their “Evolution of Jazz” program in Gaston Hall.
Like many young men and women, Georgetown students love an occasion to look their best. These pages from the program book for the 1956 Junior Prom demonstrate both the image of elegance in the 1950s and the proper conduct and etiquette for college students of the day. Note that the program includes friendly reminders to the young dressers, giving reasonable recommendations for appearance and timely appliance of makeup. As the second page hints, the theme for this prom was “Mardi Gras,” and so the Grand Ballroom of DC’s Mayflower Hotel was decked out in the vibrant yellows, greens, purples and other wild colors for a refined celebration of the pre-Lent festival.
While proms and formal dances have steadily declined in high schools and colleges across the US, Georgetown students today make an effort to hold “best dress” events when they can. Many student organizations such as the South Asian Society, Muslim Student Association, the Corp and Fraternities like Delta Phi Epsilon hold season formal parties and organizations while the SFS organizes the Diplomatic Ball every spring. There is also a Senior Ball, held the night before graduation, often hosted at Union Station.
These images come from the February 2nd edition of The Washington Post in 1955, recapping that year’s junior prom. These pictures act supplementary to the programs in this case, as a way of giving “voice” and visualization of what Georgetown students and Georgetown formals looked like in the era.
In 1963, the East Campus student body (comprised of the Foreign Service School, Business School, and School of Languages and Linguistics) was lucky enough to present Ray Charles at McDonough Gymnasium. At the height of his career, Charles, then 32, was enjoying a fruitful string of recording and touring successes. He had released his landmark album What’d I Say in 1959, and shortly before his appearance at Georgetown he had released his groundbreaking Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music collection. Charles was also one of the first rock n roll performers to visit Georgetown, and his success set the stage for a long line of performers that visited campus over the next two decades.
With the advent of the rock era in the 1960s, Georgetown students began inviting rock n roll acts from the top of the charts. Once such band was New York-based The Lovin’ Spoonful, best known today for the song “If You Believe in Magic.” The group played Georgetown’s McDonough Gymnasium on April 15,1967 (six months later, they would headline D.A.R.’s Constitution Hall). The items collected here include: one of the original posters advertising the event, small ads (which ran in The Washington Star), and the illustrated review that ran in the student newspaper, The Hoya.
Other performers who graced the stages of McDonough Gymnasium and Gaston Hall during these years included: Johnny Mathis, Dionne Warwick, The Animals, The Righteous Brothers, The Kingston Trio, the Four Tops, and the Grateful Dead. Some alumni recall that in 1968, the student body had to choose between the Four Tops and Pink Floyd for Homecoming entertainment. Georgetown’s loss for not having chosen Pink Floyd.
While the Beatles and the Rolling Stones will always vie for the title of “most famous rock band” and “best band of the British Invasion,” the Who will remain the most visionary band to emerge from 1960s Britain. When the mod-rockers performed at McDonough Gymnasium in November 1969, they were on a meteoric rise. The group had played Woodstock four months earlier and were in the midst of a tour to support their album Tommy, the world’s first rock opera. Pete Townshend, the group’s guitarist and visionary leader, composer, and songwriter, sat for an interview with Georgetown student Larry Rohter (now a writer for the New York Times), who then wrote for the SFS’s political magazine, The Courier. Rohter’s interview with Townshend covered many subjects, from the state of rock and groups like MC5 to current events in Washington, DC. The exchange reveals, that just like today, Georgetown students liked to mix pop culture and politics.
As the rock era became ever more radicalized — both musically and politically — concerts did, too. There are the horror stories of Altamont and other rock festivals of the era. Although Georgetown never experienced catastrophes of that magnitude, the damage after rock n roll events on campus made the music an enemy of the administration beginning in 1970. Growing concerns about drug law violations (October 1970 Grateful Dead show) and ignored fire regulations reached a breaking point with Traffic’s appearance in November 1970. Student attendees caused $15,000 damage to the McDonough Gymnasium building — mostly caused by the gate crashers who smashed the building’s windows. The administration put a ban on concerts “indefinitely.” This story from The Voice reports the details of the concert incident and the administration’s statements.
The Georgetown administration lifted their ban on rock concerts in 1971. Working in tandem with the student government, Georgetown sponsored bands like the Archies and the Beach Boys, which featured wholesome, American-values rock. After the success of these early ventures, the University administration returned the decision making about concerts back to the student government and SEC. This collage represents a portion of the concerts Georgetown students experienced between 1971 (the Beach Boys) and 1981 (the Pretenders). These concerts featured boundary pushing artists like Devo, Patti Smith (in 1975 and 1978), and Elvis Costello, as well as rock n roll pioneers like Chuck Berry, the Coasters, and Muddy Waters. Bruce Springsteen performed at Georgetown three years in a row: 1974 in Gaston Hall and 1975 and 1976 in McDonough Gymnasium.
The Boss’s 1974 performance in Gaston Hall was broadcast live by WGTB. While his final number, an extended version of Fats Domino’s “Let’s The Four Winds Blow,” was cut from the broadcast due to time constraints, the mostly complete show can be found online “though the magic of bootleg.”
Bill Danoff came to Georgetown in 1964 to study Chinese, but his true passion lay in music and songwriting. In an attempt to remain active with music during his college years, Danoff became doorman and later board operator at the Cellar Door, a popular club on 34th and M Street. After graduating, he and wife Taffy Nivert began their music careers as “Fat City,” playing the Georgetown club circuit (back when the neighborhood was known for its many music venues). Their big break came in 1970, when they opened for John Denver at the Cellar Door. Danoff and Denver soon began to co-write songs. Their first big hit, “Country Roads,” was released in 1971. Riding on the song’s success, Danoff and Nivert formed Starland Vocal Band in the mid-1970s. Their biggest hit, “Afternoon Delight,” was inspired by the menu at Clyde’s. Released in 1976, it quickly went #1 and proved to be the best-selling single that year. This photograph is from a CBS television appearance of the Starland Vocal Band in Dalghren Quadrangle in 1977.
Entering Georgetown two years after Danoff, Walter Egan proved to be another Hoya titan of 70s music. An artist first and foremost, Egan came to Georgetown as one of its first Studio Art majors. But music was always at the forefront of Egan’s mind. In fact, it was a member of his high school band, John Zambetti (College ’70), who talked Egan into attending Georgetown. After graduating in 1970, Egan found initial success as a songwriter; his country tune “Hearts on Fire” was recorded by Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. In 1977 Egan recorded the album shown here, Fundamental Roll, produced by Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Today, he is best known for his 1978 hit single “Magnet and Steel” (rumored to have been inspired by Nicks) from his second album Not Shy.
Egan has enjoyed success as a recording artist and songwriter since the late 70s.His song “Hot Summer Nights” became a hit for the band Night. He also became a touring member of one of the later incarnations of LA-based psychedelic/prog rock band Spirit. Egan resides in Nashville, where he continues to write and record his own material. His most recent album Myth America came out in 2014. Egan and Danoff taught classes about the music industry and songwriting in 2008. The Georgetown Voice was able to interview the pair during the semester.
“One Nation. Underground.”
WGTB-Georgetown Radio was founded and organized in 1946 by Rev. Francis Hayden, S.J., as a way to broadcast Latin mass to shut-ins in Washington, DC. Originally an AM station, WGTB switched its format to FM in 1960 and radically morphed over the next decade from a conservative university- run radio station to one of the leading far-left, FM radio stations in the DC-VA-MD area. With programming that spanned everything from country music and Coltrane, to electronic music and the Sex Pistols, WGTB was often at odds with Rev. Timothy Healy, S.J., Georgetown’s then-president. Fr. Healy closed WGTB in 1979 and donated the FM band to the University of the District of Columbia. After attempted resurrections in the 80s and 90s, WGTB now exists as an internet-based, student run radio station. It broadcasts programming 8am-2am daily.
If you want a sense of what WGTB’s programming was like in its prime, internet radio station WGAY broadcasts recordings of WGTB programs from the 1970s on Wednesday afternoons. For further information on WGTB’s history and current activities, visit their website. Former WGTB GM Caroline Klibanoff led the production team on a documentary called “Radical Silence: A History of WGTB” that she created as a senior at Georgetown in 2011.
These images provide a brief glimpse of the atmosphere and human agency behind WGTB during its height in the 1970s. Pictured to the left is WGTB GM (1971-1975) Ken Sleeman, who oversaw the station’s growth into the Voice of Washington. Pictured to the right are a number of members of the WGTB staff in the mid-1970s, including Ted White (Dr. Progresso) and Lee Michael Demsey, currently a radio host for WAMU. These reproduced photos come from the collection of the Facebook group “Vintage WGTB (1960s and 1970s).
After seeing the Cramps at the now legendary Hall of Nations (what is now Walsh Black Box Theater) WGTB Benefit show in 1979, Guy Picciotto was inspired to give a similar performance in December 1985, when his band Rites of Spring played as part of another WGTB Benefit. This show was one of only roughly 15 live shows ever performed by the band in their four year existence.
The original benefit in 1979 was co-organized by Bob Boilen, the host of NPR’s All Songs Considered and a driving force behind NPR Music.
Rites of Spring is the debut, and only full length LP produced by DC post-hardcore punk band Rites of Spring. Named after Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, Rites of Spring was formed in 1984 by then Georgetown University freshman Guy Picciotto (College ’88). Influenced by the alternative music he first heard on WGTB and at campus concerts, Picciotto and bandmates Eddie Janney, Mike Fellows, and Brendan Canty created a version of punk that combined the anger and fury of hardcore with a melodic and emotionally clear sensibility. After graduating with a degree in English, Picciotto and drummer Brendan Canty joined Ian MacKaye and Joe Lally to form the legendary DC alternative band Fugazi. Picciotto enjoyed coming to the library to study, and he even wrote some of the lyrics for the Rites of Spring album in this very building.
Pearl Bailey’s career as a Hoya is nothing if unorthodox. Nonetheless, we are proud to have her as a musical alumna. Pearl Mae Bailey (1918-1990) grew up in Southeastern Virginia and began her career by winning amateur song contests at age 15 at Philadelphia’s Pearl Theater and Harlem’s Apollo Theater. Bailey spent the next decade of her career singing in nightclubs along the East coast before performing on Broadway in 1946. She later gained universal renown in the 1960s as the lead in an all-black tour of Hello, Dolly! co-starring Cab Calloway. A television actress, master of the stage, and prolific recording artist, Bailey was recognized for her stalwart career with an honorary doctorate from Georgetown University in 1977. Feeling that the degree was not properly earned, Bailey enrolled as an undergraduate in the Fall of 1977, graduating with a B.A. in Theology in 1985. Bailey recorded ‘Come On Let’s Play With Pearlie Mae’ for Roulette Records in 1962.
The inlaid image comes from Bailey’s undergraduate commencement in 1985.
In the midst of the alternative rock boom of the 1990s, two Georgetown students Matt Scannell (College ’92) and Keith Kane (College ’92) planned to take the music world by storm. Scannell obtained his first guitar at age 7, and Kane wrote his first song two years later at age 9. The pair bonded over Jimi Hendrix and recorded their first album as the duo Vertical Horizon in 1992. After expanding the band to a four-piece, their longstanding ambition came to fruition in 1999 with the release of their third LP, Everything You Want. The album went double platinum and the eponymous title track went #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Kane left Vertical Horizon in 2010 to pursue a solo career, but both he and Scanell continue to make music. This article was originally published in Georgetown Magazine (2001).
Despite being Georgetown’s most famous alumnus of the last 50 years, Bill Clinton’s (SFS ’68) name is not immediately associated with music. Former President Clinton grew up a fan of jazz music and even played saxophone at Georgetown. During his presidential campaign in the early 90s, this Hoya used popular culture as a way to appeal to a younger voting demographic. The most famous instance came from this event, when then-Governor Clinton appeared on Arsenio Hall’s talk show in 1992. The cool cat blew a jazz-y rendition of Lieber and Stoller’s “Heartbreak Hotel” before sitting down for an interview with the host.
Beginning in 1976 as a variety talent show, Cabaret is now billed as a “rock extravaganza” featuring Georgetown student musicians. This exhibit sign shows the logos from a number of Cabaret shows over the years.
The Guild of Bands (GOB) is an academic music ensemble that was established in 2007 as part of the new undergraduate degree in American Musical Culture. Designed as a training laboratory for aspiring musicians and songwriters, GOB has facilitated the rebirth of a rock band culture at Georgetown. The bands pictured here are punk trio Dagos/Spit (2012-Present), folk-rock band the Ripples (2013-2015), alternative folk group Danny and the Dark (2012-2013), indie pop/electropop duo Tigers Are Bad For Horses (2014-Present), and indie rock/folk band Giant’s Causeway (2013-2015).
The academic director of the Guild of Bands is Prof. Joe McCarthy, a nationally recognized musician and pedagogue. McCarthy recently completed a 20-year tour with The United States Naval Academy Band, where he served as principal percussionist of the wind ensemble and Chief in Charge/drummer of the Next Wave Jazz Ensemble, one of the Navy’s two premier big bands. He is also founder and drummer of Afro Bop Alliance, winner of the 2008 Latin Grammy for Latin Jazz Album of the Year, for the their eponymous debut album.
A folk rock band who owe as much to the Beatles and the Byrds as they do Carole King and Bob Dylan, the Ripples are one of Georgetown’s most prolific bands. Founded by Tyler Pierce (College ’15) the group includes: Will Heuser (College ’15), Ben Suarez (College ’14), Anthony Albanese (College ’17) and Zach Fore. Over the past two years, the band has released two albums and performed at various DC venues, including the Rock N Roll Hotel. The Ripples disbanded after graduation. Tyler Pierce has begun recording solo. This photo was taken in 2015 when they performed at the Light of Day Festival in Asbury Park, NJ.
Check out the Ripples’ bandcamp page for their music.
Gender politics is an issue close to the hearts and minds of many Georgetown students. Catherine DeGennaro (College ’13) created Danny and the Dark as a way to give voice to Georgetown’s female musicians. Made up of DeGennaro, Suzy Jivotovski (College ’15), Kate Witchger (College ’15), and Danny Goldberg (College ’14), the alternative folk group became a mainstay performer on campus for several years. This photograph comes from Danny and the Dark’s performance at the Guild of Bands showcase in Winter 2012.
Danny and the Dark was one of the main subjects of DeGennaro’s Senior Capstone Documentary All Girl Sound. Danny and the Dark folded in 2013, but its members remain active. DeGennero and Jivotovski perform and record under the moniker GRNDMS, Danny Goldberg plays with a new country rock group, Old Moonlight, around DC and Kate Witchger is currently attending Columbia Law.
Formed in the Fall of 2014 through the Guild of Bands class, the alternative/indie folk group Giant’s Causeway are primed to be the leaders of the Georgetown student music scene in 2015. Its members include: Juan Luis Tirado (College ’16), Alicia Wun (’16), Jack Treado (’16), Helen Sprainer (’16), and Jack Robinson (’16). This photo comes from their performance at the Caring For Kids With Cancer Battle of the Bands in Spring 2015.
Check out the group’s bandcamp page for music and more.
Both members of Tigers Are Bad For Horses, singer Mary Ellen Funke (SFS ’15) and composer/keyboard player Lyell Evans Roedder (College ’13), are veterans of the Georgetown music scene. Lyell put out his own album 22 Arcadia Lane, produced other students musicians and served as member of the jazz band while Mary Ellen Funke led two hugely successful student folk bands: Mellenfolly and Mellen. Their debut single “Recovery” went into rotation on SiriusXM’s Chill shortly after release in September 2014. This photo comes from their performance at Georgetown Day 2015.
You can find out more about Tigers Are Bad For Horses on their website, including press coverage from around DC.
For the student film Mary Ellen and Lyell scored: Singular Germinate, directed by Brooks Birdsall.
The punk power trio, Dagos, was formed at Georgetown in YEAR. Its members, John Romano (College ’14), Joe Romano (College ’12), and Gianfranco Nuschese (College ’14) now live in New York and perform under the name “Spit.” This photo comes from a Dagos performance at a Georgetown house show in September 2014.
Curated by Jackson Sinnenberg (C 2015)