Apollo Boys' Choir

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1950s advertisement for the Apollo Boys' Choir

The Apollo Boys' Choir was a nationally-renowned and influential boys' choir founded in Birmingham by Coleman Cooper in 1934 and actively touring around the country until 1956.

Cooper, inspired by a performance by the Vienna Boys' Choir to the Episcopal Church of the Advent in the Winter of 1934, decided to form a similar group in Birmingham. He brought together 16 voices to rehearse that Spring and was encouraged by their accomplishments.

After spending the off-season rigorously studying vocal performance with Josef Schnitt in Vienna and with William Finn and Earnest Mitchell in New York, he auditioned as many as 6,000 boys in Birmingham City Schools and emerged with a 25-voice ensemble, only two of whom had been part of the first group. The choir rehearsed at First Methodist Church's education building, and at a Summer camp in Mentone in DeKalb County.

At Thanksgiving in 1935 the Apollo Boys' Choir performed for President and Mrs Franklin D. Roosevelt at their "Little White House" in Warm Springs, Georgia. In January 1936, the group performed in front of the Vienna Boys Choir, on a return visit to Birmingham. Their directors considered the Birmingham group to have the best training of any they had heard in America, and some of the best voices they had heard anywhere.

The attention from those performances gained them invitations to travel around the country. The Alabama Federation of Music Clubs accepted the group as a member organization, the first boys' choir to be so honored in any state. They performed for the National Convention of Federated Music Clubs in Indianapolis, Indiana that year, and were heard on the CBS national radio network via WAPI-AM.

By 1938 the Apollo Boys' Choir was accepting applications for new voices from around the country and offering boarding scholarships to successful applicants. The choir's summer camps expanded to resorts in North Carolina and a winter training session was added in Florida. In 1939 the choir performed at the Bach Festival at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida and at Town Hall in New York City, receiving high praise from musicians and critics. The group was featured on the April 2 NBC Radio Network program "Across the Country on a Bus", hosted by Milton Cross, and followed its studio appearance with an Evensong service at St Thomas Church.

The choir moved to Dallas, Texas in 1941. Through the early part of that decade the group was able to command booking fees in excess of $1,500 per date, playing at resort hotels around the country and at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D. C.. In addition, the group shared the stage with the Dallas and Chicago Symphonies and maintained regular appearances on national radio, highlighted by a December 23, 1946 star turn on the Bell Telephone Hour with Helen Traubel as soloist.

In 1950 Cooper moved the group again, to a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida. The choir recorded music for the 1953 film Hansel and Gretel with the New York Philharmonic and soloists from the Metropolitan Opera conducted by Franz Allers. The group disbanded in 1956 following a conflict with neighbors who complained that the use of the house as a rehearsal studio constituted a nuisance. Cooper secured rooms in a hotel, but retired at the end of the season and ended the choir's organized activities. One of his protege's, George Bragg, founded the Texas Boys' Choir in Denton, Texas; mentored the California Boys' Choir and the Paulist Boy Choristers; and helped found the Boychoir Institute.

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