About the Jabberwocks
In 1949, four sophomores wanted something different from Brown’s traditional men’s Glee Club, so they formed their own independent singing group, soon to be called The Jabberwocks (from the Lewis Carroll poem, “Jabberwocky”). The quartet quickly rose to on-campus fame, offering a new and exciting form of music to the students. Now, decades later, the Jabberwocks remain a fixture of student life at Brown and the oldest a cappella group at the school.
Aside from regular appearances at Brown and other college campuses across the country, the Jabberwocks have sung for a wide variety of audiences. The group’s past gigs include serenading Miss America ’98, singing the National Anthem for opening weekend games at Shea Stadium and Veterans Stadium, performing at Carnegie Hall, and appearing on the national TV airwaves of South Korea. With powerful music augmented by choreography and humorous skits, the Jabberwocks remain committed to pushing the envelope of a cappella excellence.
The Jabberwocks have received numerous awards, have had tracks on the Best of Collegiate A Cappella albums (BOCA), and have been honored in the CARA awards. The Jabberwocks release a new CD every two years and are constantly recording. Their latest album, “Jabbertalk”, can be heard on the Music section of the website. The Jabberwocks’ long-standing tradition of excellence and cutting-edge a cappella remains strong after more than 70 years.
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In 1949, four Glee Club members believed that an independent group of the type that had been springing up during that decade on other campuses would be more to their liking. These four men, as one of them put it, were ”a quartet looking for a name.” One night that fateful year, one of the founding members sat eating dinner in his fraternity house, when one of the brothers stood up and recited the poem, because, well, that’s what you did for fun in 1949. Immediately, he conceived of calling the group “The Jabberwocks”, and brought the idea to the others in the quartet (soon to be octet) who agreed that it was a good name for a singing group. We still think so!
- 1950’s – The Jabberwocks in the fifties developed very quickly into an active college octet. There were at least four albums made in that decade: The Jabberwocks (1953), Come Gather ‘Round (1956), Fascinatin’ Rhythm (1958), and the Tenth Anniversary Album (1959). Although notions of tradition and alumni relations were few in those years, the group had become admittedly typical of East Coast singing groups of the 1950s. “Back then, everything was very much Brooks Brothers, Ivy League,” remembers an Alum from ’60.
- 1960’s – The Jabberwocks realized that the times they were a-changin’, and that they could no longer be the tweed-wearing, barbershop-singing group that they had been in the Fifties. The group started performing with guitars and singing a number of folk songs. They even rewrote the lyrics to an old Civil War song to apply to the Vietnam War and sung it as an anti-war piece. In the academic year of 1967-68, the Jabberwocks cut an album called Ornithopter, meaning a flying device propelled by the flapping of wings. It was something of a renaissance for the Jabberwocks; the album demonstrated a level of musicality that had not existed for a number of years. Ornithopter combined popular music of the times with Jabberwock standards such as “Lucky Lindie,” “O Joe,” and “The Halls of Ivy.” It even ended with the traditional last song for Jabberwock albums and concerts, “The Farewell Song,” along with a sixties touch: a prayer for peace during the oo’s of the second verse.
- 1970’s – The turbulent era of the 70’s saw some momentous changes for The Jabberwocks. In 1971, after 22 years as an all-male group, it was time for the Jabberwocks to go co-ed! The group did a number of new arrangements for male and female voices and quickly developed its own identity as a co-ed group. Folk/rock was the main fare of the group in those days. The song, “Dancing in the Street,” sung in that day by the Mamas and the Papas, was one of their most popular numbers. By 1975 the folky Jabberwocks had entered the era of disco, and with commencement that year, the Jabberwocks, along with the senior class, left Brown. The Jabberwocks did not resume in the fall of ’75 – what became the start of a five year period of hibernation.
- 1980’s – In September of 1980 two brothers – the sons of a Jabberwock alum from 1955 – held auditions to reboot the male a cappella octet. It took a few years for the Jabberwocks to rebuild their repertoire and reestablish their performance reputation. By 1984, the group was ready to record a new album – the first Jabberwock album in 14 years. Streetnight contained many new arrangements by members of the group, as well as old Jabberwock tunes such as “Old Black Magic.” Change came once again in early 1986 as the Jabberwocks stopped performing on Campus and looked to enter the professional circuit without a collegiate reputation. Not all members shared this ambition for the group, and in the fall of 1986 two lone members stayed at Brown and were able to reboot the group for the second time in a decade. Seven new Jabberwocks were sung in, and a year later a new album Hanging Out was recorded.
- 1990’s – The 90’s saw the Jabberwocks solidify around their unique history and connection to Brown. In 1989 the Jabberwocks celebrated their 40 years with a three-day reunion that saw some 50 alumni from the classes of 51′ through ’92 come together. Around this time the “Wock Room” was acquired as a home base for the Jabberwocks past and present. Many albums were recorded in the 90’s – including Stylin’ By the Tum Tum Tree, The Sharpest Tools in the Shed, and Liz’s Slingback Boots. The 1994 45th reunion saw a huge turnout, only to be eclipsed by our 50th reunion in 1999. Along the way, the Jabberwocks continued to tour actively – even singing for a week in South Korea! By the end of the 90’s the Jabberwock Alumni had formalized their engagement with the group by raising a small endowment and forming an Alumni Council.
- A New Beginning – The Jabberwocks of Brown University have a history that reads the way a roller coaster rides. They have been affected by the members of the group, the college they represent, and the nation itself. Having continued operating and singing in harmony for the last few decades the Jabberwocks and their alumni have enjoyed a nice stretch of normalcy. The group tours every year and records a new album every 2-4 years. Alumni and the current group enjoy coming together every 5 years for the Jabberwocks Reunion.