The Legacy of the Apollo Boys' Choir

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The rest is history. The President not only heard a song - he stopped his work long enough for a number of songs including one of his favorites "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms", interspersed with very pleasant and informal conversation in which he told the boys he too had been a boy singer. To this Mr. Cooper replied "You see with the great potential of America, perhaps some day one of you may become President". The Choir boys and Staff remained for Dinner that Thanksgiving weekend and performed for the patients being treated for infantile paralysis at the Warm Springs facility. In a letter of appreciation the Executive Director, Mr. Fred Botts, wrote "The Paeans of praise for the glorious singing of the boys has taken on the form of a Foundation Anthem and still can be heard throughout the halls."

That moment of meeting Mrs. Roosevelt was photographed and the picture went out over the national wire services. Suddenly, celebrity status set in. People far and wide took notice. Requests for concerts began coming from all over the country.

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The Alabama Federation of Music Clubs granted the Apollo Boys' Choir membership, the first such honor to be given a boy choir anywhere in the country, inviting the group to sing at the National Bienniel Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. Following this timely appearance bold headlines on the front page of the Indianapolis Star proclaimed: "The 24 young singers of the Apollo Boys' Choir from Birmingham, Alabama, looked like cherubs and sang like the heavenly hosts, thus creating an unprecedented ovation before the 4000 delegates to the National Convention of Federated Music Clubs."

Concert fees of $100.00 were beginning to appear on the Choir's ledger. CBS Radio presented the Apollo Boys' Choir nationwide over its network through the local Birmingham affiliate WAPI. Meanwhile, auditions and rehearsals continued from season to season. Summer camps were a regular part of the boys' training program: Mentone, Alabama; Montreat, North Carolina; Lake Junaluska, North Carolina; Asheville, North Carolina - along with winter training sessions in Florida.

The word was out across the country and applications from hopeful participants came from numerous states, creating a demand for the Apollo Boys' Choir's first out-of-state auditions in Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kansas. In due time Mr. Cooper and his Mother offered $18,000 yearly in boarding scholarships and auditions became nationwide.

On February 25, 1939, the Choir participated in the Bach Festival at Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, before such distinguished musicians as Madam Louise Homer of Metropolitan Opera fame; Dr. James Francis Cooke, publisher of Etude Magazine; Mr. Ferde Grofe', renowned composer; Mr. John F. Majeski, publisher of the Musical America and a bevy of other distinguished personages. The resulting musical encounters and reviews confirmed what the press had already proclaimed - America had a great boys' choir . . . second to none!!

On April 1, 1939, the Apollo Boys' Choir made its formal American debut for the New York critics by performing in Town Hall. It was a revelation to those provencial, urban Manhattanites. They discovered what many had known for quite some time, that the Southern State of Alabama had a cultural organization - par excellence - which had set a standard for all to remember when one mentioned the art of the boy choir. Famed critic Francis D. Perkins wrote in The New York Herald-Tribune: "The engaging group of boys heard in Town Hall yesterday reflected great credit upon the musicianship and directonal ability of their young Conductor, singing with unwavering fidelity to pitch, accuracy of detail and a tone of remarkably clear and fluent quality, appealing in timbre and characterized by excellent balance. From a visual and musical point of view, the performance deserved exceptional praise."

On April 2, 1939, the NBC Radio Network presented the Apollo Boys' Choir nationwide with Milton Cross as announcer on a children's program called "Across the Country on a Bus". Of interest is the fact that the other featured attraction on the program was young "Bubbles" Silverman, later to become renown as operatic superstar, Beverly Sills. The following day the Choir sang Evensong Service at St. Thomas Church through the personal invitation of Dr. T. Tertius Noble, again to critical acclaim.

With first-rate reviews confirming in-depth quality, part of the dream came true with the beginning of professional dates on organized Concert Series, College Lyceum Courses and appearances with Symphony Orchestras under such respected conductors as Antal Dorati, Max Reiter, Walter Hendl and Franz Allers. The fees moved from $100.00 to $200.00 to $400.00, finally reaching $1500.00. Success had begun to move the Apollo Boys' Choir into wondrous places - Grove Park Inn, Asheville, North Carolina, with its clientele of celebrities; The Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia; The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida; the Boca Raton Club; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.; The Waldorf-Astoria in New York City; The Greenbrier Hotel at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, etc. etc.

The Choir's symphonic appearances ranged from the Dallas and San Antonio Symphonies to Orchestra Hall, Chicago. Sharing the spotlight on many of these occasions were world renowned Artists such as Gladys Swarthout, Lily Pons, Frances Yeend, Hilda Gueden, Arthur Kraft, Richard Tucker and Anna Russell. Likewise, the Choir's many coast-to-coast network appearances over the extensive facilities of CBS and NBC reached their zenith in a Christmas broadcast December 23, 1946, on the most prestigious of all radio programs, the Bell Telephone Hour, when it collaborated with the world renowned Wagnerian soprano, Helen Traubel. The airing was a phenomenal success resulting in an avalanche of fan mail.

One of the Choir's greatest and longest lasting monuments was a soundtrack recording of Hansel and Gretel performed with members of the New York Philharmonic and soloists from the Metropolitan Opera under the baton of Dr. Franz Allers. Thirty-two years after its production the sound still is heard through recordings as well as on video cassettes. It is a classic - a rare sound with fragile beauty, much like the Apollo Choir itself as it is viewed in retrospect.

apollo2-sm.jpg (16461 bytes)Whether one found the "center-of-his-universe" in Birmingham, or from 1941 to 1950 in Dallas, Texas, or from 1950 to 1956 in Palm Beach, Florida, we Alumni all share a common blessing - that of having known and loved Coleman Cooper, his Mother, Olive Bryan Cooper, and Bert Hallock. These three have carried the standards of the organization forward through the years and although a considerable time has passed since the Apollo Choir faded into history in 1956, the creed has not changed. The belief in Beauty, in Intelligence and in the Best of which Man is capable continues. For all of the years of holding high the standard of excellence, the Apollo Alumni are knowingly aware and grateful.

Approximately four hundred lives have been enriched through Membership in the Apollo Boys' Choir. All have made a major contribution to Choral Art in the United States during those brief, but important, years of the Apollo Choir's existence. That ideal of work and sharing with the world, begun so long ago, continues even today through the genius of Coleman Cooper and the devotion of Bert Hallock, who have indeed blessed America.

George Bragg

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Webmaster's comments...

With the retirement of Mr. Coleman Cooper in 1956, the Apollo Boys' Choir was disbanded, the choirboys returning to their homes. But the spirit of the Apollo Boys' Choir lives on; it lives in the Apollo Alumni still with us today and it lives also in our American boychoirs. The Apollo Boys' Choir was the 'pattern' for the boychoirs that followed. That is the legacy.

Larry Ford

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Copyright 2001 Larry Ford All rights reserved
This page was last modified on 01 September 2004