Controversy on the Origins of the Pomona College Alma Mater

 

According to Richard Loucks, Jr., ex-13, the composer of “Hail, Pomona, Hail”, that song was written for a baseball fund-raiser in January of 1910.  He states [1] that the show was “an Old Time Black Face Minstrel Show.” It had “reached the dress rehearsal stage when it suddenly dawned upon those in charge that … nothing had been done about an ensemble finale.”  After several hours at a piano, “Hail, Pomona, Hail” emerged, “written to bring down the curtain on the best minstrel show that ever trod the boards of old Holmes Hall.”[1]

 

Other evidence for the origins of “Hail, Pomona, Hail” is a collection of note cards [2] written by Loucks for a talk to the Glee Club in 1958.  These notes go into great detail about the composition of the show.  Several interviews with him and articles by him were published in the Pomona College alumni magazine, especially at the time of his being awarded the first Trustee Medal of Merit in November 1972. [3]

 

The minstrel show is also described in The Student Life of 1909-1910 ([4] pp. 195-196).  The description of the show follows that sketched in Loucks note cards, including the following:

Š      The first act follows the structure of a traditional minstrel show and ends with the singing of “The Blue and White”, also composed by Loucks.

Š      Both agree that the second act included a parody of the “Ill Treated Trovatore,” which ended with “a stirring rendition of the “Anvil Chorus””.

 

There are some minor differences between Loucks’ note cards and the TSL article. According to Loucks, this performance was also in blackface.  The TSL article describes a few skits starting the second act that are not mentioned on Loucks’ note cards.  TSL also provides more information describing the action of “Trovatore,“ while Loucks provides more information on the songs associated with that part of the show. After describing the “Anvil Chorus”, also mentioned in the TSL, the Loucks’ note cards immediately continue with “A day or two prior to dress rehearsal we found we had no closing chorus for the Olio.  Considered a bleacher song but preferred something new if available.  I cut a few classes and got busy.  Result:  Hail Pomona.  Written only for the show closer.  I do not know how or when it officially became the alma mater.”

 

Neither “The Blue and White” nor “Hail, Pomona, Hail” are in the form of traditional minstrel show songs.  The “Blue and White” is what was then referred to as a “bleacher song,” while “Hail, Pomona, Hail” is more hymnal.

 

Black-faced minstrel shows were clearly a popular entertainment for students at Pomona College (and indeed at colleges around the country) at the time.  For example, we have a playbill from May 11, 1912, for a “Minstrel and Vaudeville” athletic benefit whose Part I is titled “Oh Dem Niggahs!”  Interestingly, the second act includes another parody of “Il Trovatore”.

 

The lack of mention of “Hail, Pomona, Hail” in the TSL article has led some to cast doubt on whether the song was indeed part of the baseball show, though there seems to be no doubt that Loucks is the composer.  Other circumstantial evidence cited as casting doubt on the association of the alma mater with the show is that the song first appears in a college songbook in 1911-1912, rather than the first opportunity, 1910-1911.  Loucks’ song “The Blue and White”, which finished the first act (though which might have been written earlier) does appear in 1910-1911 version of the songbook.

 

Finally we note that the text of “Hail, Pomona, Hail” appears in an honored position in the 1912 college yearbook, the Metate (which records events from 1910-1911), but not the previous year.

 

Alumna Rosemary Choate uses these discrepancies to argue that Loucks must have been mistaken in his memories, and the song was written at some other time and for some other occasion [5].  She argues that he was nearly 70 at the time of his Glee Club lecture, and that his memory had likely faded by that time. 

 

On the other hand, one might make the opposite claim based on the apparent lack of objections to Loucks’ claims made in 1954 and later.  At that time, his classmates and other participants in the minstrel show would have been in their mid-sixties, and would have objected if they believed the account was false.

 

For example, William Clary ’11 was a participant in the minstrel show and had a long and distinguished history with the Claremont Colleges (including serving as a trustee at Pomona from 1952-1962).  Additionally, Clary is cited in a letter [6] of 10/5/1955 as bringing a letter from Benjamin Stansbury to E. Wilson Lyons offering to set up a scholarship in Loucks’ name.    In spite of his long association with the colleges and key part in providing for the recognition of Loucks by Pomona, there is no record of any objection to Loucks’ account of the origin of the alma mater.

 

In spite of the many documents we have sought on the history of the alma mater, we have uncovered no documentary evidence earlier than 1954 indicating that it originated in a blackface minstrel show.  The question is whether or not we trust Loucks’ own account of the history of the song he composed; a history that was never questioned until September of this year.  Without the discovery of further documentation on the origins of the song, we will likely never be able to settle the issue to everyone’s satisfaction.  Rather each of us will need to make our best judgment and proceed from there.

 


End Notes

[1] The quote is from an undated letter in the Richard Loucks, Jr., alumni house file.  Copy available at:

http://www.cs.pomona.edu/~kim/CollegeSongs/LoucksLetterOnShow1.jpg and

http://www.cs.pomona.edu/~kim/CollegeSongs/LoucksLetterOnShow2.jpg.

This letter is unsigned, and addressed “Dear Dick” though quotes from it are published elsewhere and attributed to Loucks.  Most likely, this letter was written from Loucks, Jr. to his son (also Richard), then a music professor at Pomona.  The contents are quoted on the back of the record jacket “Songs of Pomona College” by the Pomona College Glee Club, dated 1954.  [Honnold call # XP15.1.P71 S6 1954].

 

[2] The note cards are from Loucks’ alumni house file.  The most relevant cards are copied at http://www.cs.pomona.edu/~kim/CollegeSongs/Loucks%20Notes.jpg

 

[3] An example of such stories is “Hail, Pomona, Hail!” by Richard N. Loucks, Jr. ’13, Pomona Today, Spring, 1988, , at http://www.cs.pomona.edu/~kim/CollegeSongs/LoucksArticle2.jpg

and “Loucks left musical mark on alma mater”, Pomona Today, Fall, 1990 at

http://www.cs.pomona.edu/~kim/CollegeSongs/LoucksArticle1.jpg

A portion of the transcript of the interview with Caroline Beatty that is excerpted in the first of these stories can be found at

http://www.cs.pomona.edu/~kim/CollegeSongs/LoucksInterviewAlmaMater.pdf

 

[4] The Student Life, 1910, pg 195-196.  Copy available at:

http://www.cs.pomona.edu/~kim/CollegeSongs/TheBaseBallShow1.jpg

http://www.cs.pomona.edu/~kim/CollegeSongs/TheBaseBallShow2.jpg

 

[5] See “Recording History:  The origins of a song” by Rosemary Choate, at

http://www.cs.pomona.edu/~kim/CollegeSongs/ChoateReport.pdf.

 

 [6] See the article, “William Webb Clary—1888–1971,” which appeared in the Honnold Library Record, Vol. XII, No. 2, Fall 1971.   Clary was a major contributor to the growth of the Claremont Colleges.  On top of the accomplishments cited above he served as a founding board member of CMC, HMC, and Pitzer College.  A copy of the letter of 10/5/1955 mentioning Clary as bringing a letter from Benjamin Stansbury to E. Wilson Lyons offering to set up a scholarship in Loucks’ name is available at:

http://www.cs.pomona.edu/~kim/CollegeSongs/LoucksScholarship2.jpg