Thursday, October 13, 2011


In fourth grade, our teacher was Jean Heath, a dark-haired, clean-scrubbed natural beauty, who often played the guitar and sang for us.  She described her original home in Washington State as one where you could stand and see hundreds of miles through the clear mountain air.  Children were taken by her youth and charm, enthusiastically participating in her favorite amusement - music.  We sang at least 15 minutes a day and were each issued a songbook, from which we chose our favorites.  We favored "Columbia the Gem of the Ocean,"  "Barbara Allen," and "The Erie Canal."

"I've got a mule, her name is Sal,
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal,
She's a good old worker and a good old pal,
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal"

Out of all this singing was distilled the "Bobby Soxtet," a singing group whose members she considered the strongest voices.  She added two sopranos from third grade to make a fuller sound.  In the beginning, we six performed at school functions only, but it grew to community organizations and churches.


We pose for the Gazette Journal photo circa 1955
(I am third from left)

Our focus was the least the white interpretation, which I later learned was a little off the mark as black people saw it.  I remember "Do Lord," "Shine on Me," "Swing Low," and "I Ain't Gonna Grieve" - which may not be the title but it sounds better than what we called it, "The Deacon Went Down."  Language is constantly shifting and we wouldn't say that today without people snickering.  

We adopted a uniform appearance by wearing white blouses and navy blue bib jumpers.  We oozed purity. Soon we were very popular and even had a short radio program on Sundays, which we taped earlier in the week at WDDY, our local Gloucester station.  Some fans described our radio sound as "bees in a jar," but listened just the same.  I know we had at least two black listeners:  "Aunt" Mary and "Uncle" John Smith, who lived near us on Indian Road.  (Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" mentioned them.)  They were both in their eighties, born as slaves, and were very dear sweet people.

The Bobby Soxtet Performing (from the Gazette-Journal)

We actually won a Southern States talent competition and made it to a final in Richmond with Ted Mack as host.  He was a very kind and generous man, who we all knew from his "Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour" on television.  It was a far more civilized version of today's "So You Think You Can Boil An Egg" type of programming.

The Program from Our Competition

We were once and now we're not, but those of us remaining have great and happy memories of our little brush with recognition and approval.  It was a wonderfully innocent and happy place.  The sound of our combined voices will never be heard again since two of us are now deceased, an alto and a second soprano.  I stood with my arms around their waists and I loved them dearly.  We had a good time.


  1. Wow. I think you need a book deal now.

  2. How wonderful for you to have these memories. Thank you so much for sharing them with us. I remember the "white spirituals", and how I enthusiastically sang them off-key.
    And I sure remember Long Tall Sally! I'm sure you girls didn't sing that one.
    Looking forward to reading more as you unearth your photographic memories.

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  3. How fabulous! You and my mother should get together and swap tales from back in the day... besides how you each had a beauty pageant appearance, my mom and her family had a band and their own radio show for a brief while as well. I love hearing your stories from this time.