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April 30, l997 -- No. 303
UNC-CH alma mater `Hark the Sound' to celebrate centennial May 11
By LAURA J. TOLER
UNC-CH News Services
CHAPEL HILL -- For 100 years, William Starr Myers has made all hearts enamored of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill swell with pride.
He has brought tears to the eyes of parents and seniors and summed up emotion felt by rows of swaying fans, ecstatic or crestfallen over a Carolina win or loss.
He has transported alumni groups, no matter how far away, to Carolina in their minds.
For it was Myers, class of 1897, who in that year penned lyrics to what became Hark the Sound, the beloved alma mater that has, over time, unified nearly a quarter of a million alumni as one big Carolina family.
When up to 30,000 voices unite in "Hark the Sound" to conclude graduation ceremonies May 11 in Kenan Stadium, they will celebrate a tradition that began with a commencement concert in comparatively tiny Gerrard Hall a century ago.
Then, 42 seniors graduated. Currently, Carolina lists 4,631 candidates for bachelor's, master's, doctoral and professional degrees. At the May 11 ceremony, observations of the Hark the Sound centennial will include reproductions of Myers' original, scripted lyrics and his photo on the program cover. An article about the song will appear inside the program. And, as always at commencement, everyone will be invited to join in singing the alma mater.
Just as Carolina basketball has been a uniting force for the campus community, ... `Hark the Sound' has been that type of galvanizing, unifying force for 100 years now, said Douglas Dibbert, president of the UNC General Alumni Association, who has heard the song sung at club meetings, class reunions and receptions -- even by an alumni group in Egypt, much to the surprise of fellow tourists.
On occasions that seem to call for a kind of closure, people enjoy having that bookend be the singing of `Hark the Sound,' Dibbert said.
Myers, a Baltimore native raised mostly in Asheville, lived from 1887 to 1956; he went on from Carolina to become a journalist, author and a professor of political history at Princeton University, where he taught from 1906 to 1956.
Myers' son-in-law, retired chemist John McLean of Chapel Hill, has typed more than 1,063 pages of the diaries Myers scripted between 1886 and 1952.
McLean and the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-CH's Wilson Library keep the record on Myers' song, which he titled Hail to the Brightest Star. The collection holds both the original handwritten version and a typed copy of Myers' Book of William Starr Myers. The volume contains the multitude of songs and poems the prolific Myers, Class of `97 poet, wrote from 1893 to 1897 while at Carolina.
The collection also has microfilm of Myers' handwritten diaries from 1887 to 1902. His entry for June 2, 1897 documents what apparently was the alma mater's first public performance. After morning commencement and an afternoon baseball game between the varsity and the alumni, Myers performed with the glee club as a tenor in an evening concert.
At about 8:30 p.m., the Glee and Mandolin Clubs gave their regular concert, he wrote. I managed to slide out of playing on the Mandolin Club this concert, but sang on the Glee Club as usual. The Glee Club sang a song -- `Hail to the Brightest Star' -- the words of which I wrote, the tune being the old college song `Amici.'
Stories have circulated that Myers' friend and classmate Francis Anthony Gudger debuted the song with a solo, but Myers credits only the glee club.
However, it's quite possible that Gudger wrote one of the verses, said McLean. He recalls Myers, Gudger and others discussing the song's origins in the Carolina Inn at Myers' 50th class reunion in 1947. They walked around and among them decided who wrote which verse, McLean said. Their verses have changed over 100 years, altered most by singers who popularized the song after the turn of the century.
Several years after Myers and Gudger left the campus, a university quartet picked up the tune of the song and, with slight changes in the first verse and chorus, began using it in public recitals, William D. Snider wrote in Light on the Hill: A History of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The quartet's members were Dr. Charles S. Mangum, then a young instructor in the medical school; Charles T. Woollen, later the university's business manager (and the first controller of the consolidated UNC system); J.C.B. Ehringhaus, governor of North Carolina from 1933-37 (then a UNC-CH law student); and Gaston Galloway, later a Charlotte businessman.
The Pilot, a Southern Pines newspaper, reported in 1975 that as the song's popularity with students increased, the quartet may have seen a need for additional verses and not remembered Myers' originals. Mangum is credited with writing the current second verse of the song, and Woollen the third.
McLean still hopes for a definitive answer on two questions: Who changed loyal voices in Myers' original first verse to Tar Heel voices, and who added the coda I'm a Tar Heel born, I'm a Tar Heel bred....?
Snider quoted the late J. Maryon Saunders, a longtime executive secretary of the UNC Alumni Association, who wrote that the spirited ending derived from an old camp meeting spiritual:
Baptist, Baptist is my name,
And Baptist till I die
When I am dead it can be said
You've laid a Baptist by.
Carolina's Tar Heel born adaptation, which makes its alma mater unique among many set to the Amici music, apparently came into use early in this century. Ione Linker of Chapel Hill, retired from UNC-CH libraries, remembers the coda being sung when she came to work here in 1920.
Carolina Alumni Review, the magazine of the General Alumni Association, last year portrayed the author of the original alma mater partly as a straight arrow who attended church three times on Sundays while at Carolina, playing organ at a local Episcopal church for $1 a Sunday.
An avid supporter of Carolina football and baseball, he wrote of one contest against Virginia: Our team out-classed them, but by outrageous cheating they beat us 6-0.
As a freshman, Myers was initiated into Beta Theta Pi, where original Hail to the Brightest Star lyrics were rumored to have hung but could not be located this spring. Myers was fraternity president his senior year. He also was active in the Dialectic Society, one of two debating clubs founded in 1795.
After graduating cum laude in 1897, Myers entered Johns Hopkins University as a graduate student in political science, the alumni magazine reported. There he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and earned a doctorate in 1900. One of his professors had been mentor to Woodrow Wilson, who later, as president of Princeton University, hired Myers to teach there.
Myers published 13 scholarly volumes he had written or edited; edited a collection of papers and writings of Herbert Hoover; and served as adviser and speech writer for Hoover during his presidency.
Myers' namesakes have continued the family Carolina tradition. His grandson and John McLean's son, Dr. William Starr McLean of Cornelia, Ga., graduated from UNC-CH in 1967; William Starr McLean II, in 1995.
At my graduation, either the chancellor or Mr. (William) Friday said that the daughter of the man who wrote the song, my mother, was in the stands, Dr. McLean recalled.
It was Margaret Myers McLean who donated her father's papers to the UNC-CH libraries and Myers' portrait to the George Watts Hill Alumni Center at Carolina, where it hangs in the Koury Library.
Today, students remain sentimental toward Myers' poignant poetry. To mark the centennial of Hark the Sound, the Carolina men's and women's glee clubs jointly performed the tune in its original form at three concerts this academic year. Huff, the men's director, was struck by the strong Carolina tradition that the song embodies.
College is a very emotional time, seen as a defining moment in (students') lives, he said. This song stands right in the middle. This song is a statement of appreciation for all the people who have been part of their experience at Chapel Hill.
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Photo url: http://www.unc.edu/news/pics/alum/myers_william.jpg (Photo of William Starr Myers as a Carolina senior in 1897 courtesy of North Carolina Collection, UNC-CH Libraries)
Contact: Laura J. Toler