Remember When: Memories of school assembly sing-a-longs

Published 2:06 pm Friday, August 23, 2019

With the upcoming official Alabama Bicentennial event coming up in Andalusia next Thursday, August 29, 2019, the “Old School Sing-a-Long,” there have been many memories shared on social media and in phone calls that have been received from former students of the various city and county schools. Fond memories of the old school assembly singings have been shared. Let me repeat some of these with the readers.

Sally Bass Gilmer – “I just loved all of those songs we sang. It was the best day of the week (Friday) when all of the classes  gathered in the school auditorium for the sing-a-longs.

Emily Albritton Hill – “My favorite part of the week was the Friday singings led by the teacher Mrs. Carolyn Rankin. The songs we learned were a part of the fabric of American life. Have fun. Wish I could be there!”

Harriet Jay Hubbard – “Here are some songs I remember from the group singing days – ‘Erie Canal,’  ‘Little Brown Jug,’ and rounds like ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat,’ ‘Are You Sleeping,’ and ‘Sweetly Sings the Donkey!’

Becky Spurlin Garner – “I have such sweet memories of group singing at East Three Notch School in the auditorium.

There are several songs that I know today that I am not sure I would know if not for those times in elementary school.”

Deborah Pace – “Let us bring it back!”

Jimmy Wilson – “I remember when we had those assemblies upstairs in the Church Street School auditorium that had a stage. We sang with a lot of enthusiasm songs like ‘Anchors Aweigh, My Boys.’ Miss Merilyn Jones, the music teacher, was the pianist in those days. We also had programs in assembly with magicians and a cowboy show where he did lasso tricks and popped a whip!  A circus show with jugglers and clowns had an assortment of balloons that they twisted into different shapes.”

Larry Shaw – “I remember Miss Naomi Prestwood leading the singing in the 1950s. Miss Mary Clyde Mims (Merrill) and a Miss Clay played the piano prior to the coming of Miss Jones. From a child’s point of view, we were amused, because Miss Prestwood, a spinster teacher, had waddle hanging down under her arms when she would wave and direct the songs! We used those red songbooks, ‘America Sings,’ that were handed out by the teachers. ‘Erie Canal,’ ‘Buffalo Gals,’ and ‘Sweet Betsy from Pike,’ are memorable songs. When we sang “Comin’ Round the Mountain,’ we did motions for ‘Hi, babe, Whoa back, Toot toot, Chop, chop, and Honk shoo!’”

Diana Pelham Bledsoe – “On Friday mornings, we would always sing ‘Red River Valley’ and ‘Home on the Range.’ (Cowboys in the settling of the West was a popular era in the days of the Hop-a-long Cassidy and Roy Rogers movies. That is why the Grit Channel is watched today faithfully by all the cowboys and cowgirls of yesteryear who got outfits from Santa Claus for Christmas back then. This writer was Annie Oakley, and my sister was Dale Evans – boots and all!

Charles Pelham – “What a memory – ‘Grandfather’s Clock,’ Tick, tock, tick, tock with our hands!”

Bill Baldwin – “I remember when we used to walk over to the Methodist Church next door and sing all those Thanksgiving songs in a special service that was aired over WCTA radio station. That was right before our holidays.”

Linda Moore – “In the 4th grade, we had to go to the First Baptist Church down the street, because there had been a fire in the Methodist Church , and they were out of the sanctuary for a while during repairs. Those special Thanksgiving assemblies that we had practiced for were broadcast each year over the local radio.”

Annette Herring Bailey – “Areas in the brain are more developed when the kids are involved in music.” (Yes, there is no argument about that. Group singing, according to music educators, promotes and teaches patriotism, school spirit, enthusiasm, history, mathematics, cultures of other countries, expression of one’s feelings, and memory skills!)

Diana Glover Samuel – “The reenactment of the old school assembly sing-a-longs is going to be a memorable event – great! Can’t wait.”

Gayle Grimes Rawls – “I remember those days well!”

David Wyatt and Clark Wilson – “Take me back to the good old days!”

Irene Davis Butler – “Our music teacher at Straughn School was Miss Nora Ray. Hugh Wilson was the principal. In the 1930s all of us children sang, sang, sang from the hearts!”

Amy Pitts Duggar and Wynne Wilson Glenn – “Nancy Schlehmeier’s music class of students in the 1970s remember the ‘Mickey Mouse’ song and ‘Witches Brew!’”

Brenda Deason – “I’m comin’ to the sing-a-long! Wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

There are a lot more comments being posted daily regarding the upcoming event. Even though group singing at many schools was discontinued in the 1980s due to the emphasis on readin’ and writin’ and testin’, there seems to be a desire for that part of a child’s education to return. The late James Arthur Wilson, former teacher and principal once said in an historical society meeting that the children at East Three Notch School sang in assemblies each Friday for more than 60 years. He frowned upon the movement at the time to cut out that weekly musical heritage exercise. The same seems to be true these days with Cursive writing and penmanship making a comeback.

One of the funniest stories about those Friday assemblies was about two jokesters that were probably the only two students to ever get thrown out of the auditorium by song leader Mrs. Rankin! John Tisdale and Huey Green, both who were sons of school teachers themselves, Rutheen Tisdale and Bebe Green, decided that they would try a new antic. During the singing, they flipped over several pages in the America Sings songbook and started singing another song real loud in contrast with the song being sung. Mrs. Rankin soon got on to their “schoolboy disruption” of the songfest and ordered them out of the auditorium and back to the cloakroom in their 4th grade classroom.

After the sing-a-long, 4th grade teacher Mrs. Cofield who was a frail soul herself went upstairs to her classroom and walked into the cloakroom with her 12-inch ruler where the boys were waiting. She picked up Huey by the ear and beat him on the head with the ruler! She looked at John and said, “Honey, you wouldn’t have done anything like that, would you?”  He said “No, ma’am” and by some miracle, he escaped punishment!

It is fun to Remember When so hopefully you readers have good memories of your singing assemblies! The historical society looks forward to seeing you this coming Thursday evening when we will celebrate old times as we enjoy this community-wide event. We won’t be able to sing all of the songs mentioned above, but a good many of the tunes will be on the printed program of words! All unsure singers, sour singers, monotones, and those who have more nerve than talent are invited and welcome to attend! “Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun!”

     Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a local real estate broker and long-time member of the Covington Historical Society. She can be reached at suebwilson47@gmail.com