The DQ of Amherst College

The 1940s: An Independent Group

World War II had wide-ranging effects on all of Amherst College, including its reputation as “The Singing College.” After releasing its album early in the decade, the Glee Club was temporarily suspended, and with it, the DQ. At the conclusion of the war, things returned to normal, and the Glee Club resumed its singing. But in 1947, the DQ branched away from the larger chorus, becoming an independent singing group with its own busy travel schedule across New England and the east coast. The New DQ made its presence felt almost immediately, releasing in 1948 their first recording as the independent group. 

From the 1941 Olio

On December 19th, the Double Quartet journeyed to New York City for a highly entertaining performance before the New England Society of New York, and on February 19 they traveled to Boston where they conducted an equally well-received program.”

From the DQ of 1948 Recordings

The following is a transcription of commentary on the DQ of 1948 made by John Esty ’50 to accompany eight DQ songs transferred from shellac records in 1992. Grateful thanks to Mr. Esty for the recording and permission to transcribe it for this purpose.

This is John C. Esty of the Amherst College class of 1950. And this is a tape of the Amherst College Double Quartet of the late 1940s. These songs were transferred from three 78 rpm old fashioned shellac records, and an album whose labels and notes give no clue at all to how and when and where and by whom all these songs were recorded. This is my attempt to recreate how this all came about. This tape transfer is being made on January 10, 1992, in the recording studio of Bob Wey of Westford, Massachusetts.

My best recollection is that we made the master for these songs in the Spring of 1948. The Amherst College Glee Club had just completed a quite successful tour of the Midwest; Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, and finally, New York, in March of 1948. The Double Quartet, as it always did, accompanied the Glee Club, because most of us in the Double Quartet also sang in the Glee Club. In April of 1948, we went to New York City for a Glee Club concert of the Amherst Club of New York. My recollection is that either just before or just after that New York concert, we went up the Hudson to Troy or Albany New York to record these songs. I only remember that we were exhausted, and it could have been from the Midwest trip or just the accumulation of all of the concerts that really crowded in quite together, but I do remember also that this was not our best effort. Inside the album, and this is the only set of notes that one can find, there is a photograph of the Double Quartet, all eight of us, and the following legend:

“The eight men pictured above are not professional musicians, nor have they devoted their lives to music. They are just eight people who love to sing, and who have done something about it. They may be found practicing together each week, in any one of their favorite spots around the campus. The Double Quartet has long been a tradition at Amherst. It started out under the wing of the Glee Club, and through the years has become one of the outstanding features of The Singing College. Its songs are an unusual lot. The origins of many are not known. Some are traditional college songs, while others in a lighter vein have been acquired from a hundred and one odd corners. The songs on this album are from among those for which the DQ has become popular.

“From left to right, its members are: Lew Ball, Manny Sargent, Pete Soderbergh, Craig Greason, George Bliss, John Esty (that is your narrator), Hank Skeele, and Lou Hood. Director of the group is Hank Skeele, and Walt Latzko has done many of the original arrangements. Bliss and Soderbergh take care of the solos.”

The first song is the signature of the Amherst College Double Quartet, “Hello.” I believe this was composed by Ralph Oatley, longtime glee club director of both Amherst College and the Deerfield Academy Glee Clubs, generally through the thirties and early forties. This is followed on this first side by an old favorite with one of our own DQ twists, the solo by George Bliss, in “Katie Malone.”

The next number is a medley of Amherst College songs arranged by Walter Latzko of the Amherst Class of 1948, who was president of the Glee Club and a brilliant arranger.

Latzko also arranged this next number, “Are You from Dixie?” It was an old Dixieland tune, and the label on this original record says it was by Yellin and Tubb. Note how Latzko has substituted in the second chorus vocal parts for the musical instruments usually heard in a Dixieland band.

No one seemed to know where the next number came from. Some of us thought it could be an original by Walter Latzko. But whenever Pete Soderbergh sang the solo “I’ve Been Reading Freud,” it was all we could do to keep from cracking up.

Lindy Lou,” the next number, is identified on the otherwise information-less label as only by “Bernard.” We loved singing this old favorite because of Latzko’s rollicking bass line in the chorus.

Finally, two more old American folk songs. “Mississippi Mud” was rediscovered by Latzko and arranged for us. Shortly after this album appeared, a well known big jazz band came out with its own version of “Mississippi Mud,” and we always thought they had taken it directly from our recording. The second number on this side, “Mosquitoes,” was also fun to sing, and often rousing enough to be our closing number.

The DQ of the 1940s in the Amherst College Olio