On January 14, 1926, a few men got together after a Eugene Chamber of Commerce session to form a male chorus so they could share the joy they found in singing and bringing song to all the people of the community. A week later, their numbers had already grown to 20. They voted to take their name from a similar organization in England called the Bristol Gleemen. Since their beginning, the Eugene Gleemen have continued uninterrupted through financial challenges, depressions, wars, and any number of other difficulties to become one of Eugene’s most outstanding and successful civic organizations.
In their early years, the Gleemen struggled with the costs of outfitting all the members in matching clothing for performances. The Guard newspaper suggested it was time for the community to step up and support this hard-working, poorly-rewarded group. This was important, the editors said, because:
“They put character and vitality into our big civic gatherings. Frequently they supply a much-needed antidote for the overdoses of oratory we get from the inevitable speech makers. And there are times when the Gleemen, with a proper song, can do more to convey the spirit of Eugene than with a whole battery of speakers.” (The Guard, March 28, 1928)
The community answered the challenge, and the Gleemen not only caught on, they prospered.
The choir was led by John Stark Evans from 1927 to 1944. A University of Oregon music professor, Evans provided strong leadership, stability, and vision to the group. Many singers came and went during his tenure, but through it all Evans kept the men performing at their best, and kept expanding their horizons. No doubt some of them were surprised when he announced the Gleemen would take their show on the road. After performances in Portland, Salem, Corvallis, and other Oregon communities, the Gleemen became well-known throughout the region. Radio appearances enhanced their reputation as well.
In 1937, the Gleemen crossed the border and performed in Canada. In 1939, they represented the state of Oregon for several days at the San Francisco World’s Fair.
With the arrival of World War II in late 1941, the Gleemen faced another challenge, as 20 members were drafted or volunteered for military service. However, a call went out for replacements, and new singers joined the ranks. The wartime Gleemen entertained troops at Camp Adair and raised money for numerous charities including the Shriners Hospital in Portland and the Boy Scouts.
Their helpful donations to local organizations, along with outstanding performances and showmanship, have continued ever since.
Currently, the Gleemen stage two annual concerts, in May and November, and a Valentine Sweethearts’ Ball in February. They appear annually at the Lane County Fair, occasionally sing the national anthem at Eugene Emeralds games, perform at senior centers, and entertain at various other gatherings throughout the year.
Membership is open to men of all ages and abilities, with early January, March, and September being the best times to join. Prospective members can check things out by attending practices, which take place nearly every Tuesday from 7 to 9:30 pm at Eugene’s First Christian Church, located at 1166 Oak Street.
The Gleemen are now in their 10th decade as an important source of community pride, filling the air with song, brightening spirits, and raising money for worthy causes. To see the Gleemen in action, check for ticket prices and availability at eugenegleemen.org, on Facebook, or call their representative at 541/255-3003.