The recording, more than 55 years old, captures the warm introduction the choir members received before their performance.
“We’re very proud this morning to have the choir from Joplin Junior College here with us,” says Stuart Symington, the late U.S. Senator from Missouri. “I’ve heard many choirs, and I’ve never heard a better choir than this.
“Everybody in Missouri is mighty proud that you’ve taken the time and the trouble to come here and grace this rotunda in our national capital this morning.”
The next voice heard belongs to Oliver Sovereign, director of the JJC choir.
“I want to thank you for the privilege of being here.”
Moments later, the members of the Joplin Junior College choir begin an eight-song performance, their voices reverberating through the marble walls of the rotunda. It was a special moment for the choir members, who had worked hard to raise funds to make the trip to Washington, D.C.
“It was a big deal for the school,” says choir member Jim Dawson of the April 1962 performance. “We had performed a special concert in downtown Joplin and Sen. Symington heard us perform the ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ He was so impressed, he asked if we could bring the choir to Washington for Easter services.”
It was a tall order, in terms of raising the funds necessary to bring around 50 choir members to the U.S. capitol. But JJC administrators were on board and students quickly organized a fundraising performance.
JJC choir performed in nation’s capital in the spring of 1962
Tickets for the “On To Washington, D.C.” concert were sold for $1 each. The performance was offered at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10, 1962, in the college auditorium, and Dawson remembers a sell-out crowd.
The effort was a success, with the choir able to afford to charter a bus to take them to Washington, D.C. A banner – reading “Joplin Junior College of Joplin, Missouri, to Washington, D.C.” – was hung on the outside of the bus for the duration of their trip.
Choir members included Dawson’s brother, Gary, and his future wife, the late Treva Gilstrap. Arthur Bowles, an art instructor at JJC, also traveled with the group.
“There was a lot of snow. The banner took a weather beating,” says Dawson. “The concert in the rotunda was well-attended. The sound was the kind you can only get from the acoustics of those big, marble buildings.”
Dawson recently donated the banner from the choir’s charter bus, a ticket from the fundraising concert and a recording of the choir’s performance in Washington, D.C., to the Alumni Association at Missouri Southern State University.
“It was an unbelievable event for the choir,” he says. “It turned out to be quite a memory.”