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An article in the March 31, 1950, Red and Black student newspaper noted that two bands would play simultaneously for the Spring Formal at Sigma Nu house on Saturday night. Harry Fraser’s Rhythm Masters, a white orchestra from Greenwood, S.C., known for waltzes and slow dances, would perform under a tent on the terrace.  Al Jackson’s Dukes of Rhythm was a small, mixed-race, six-piece combo playing jumpin’ jive, and blues – they would be downstairs in the game room. *        

The article clearly showed that musical tastes were beginning to change. In the 1950s, most of the campus-wide entertainment at The University of Georgia featured the nationally known recording stars who were on Billboard Magazine’s music charts and on radio. Full orchestra swing bands were often on campus – the likes of Jimmy Dorsey and Vaughn Monroe were headliners. Most of the entertainers were white.   

But off-campus, there was a different sound. Fraternities were generally self-governing so while some social events were held at their on-campus houses, many larger parties were held at off-campus facilities with entertainment chosen by the fraternities.  

The 1950s was the decade that civil rights issues came to the forefront nationally, with the state of Georgia and Athens right in the middle of it. While it was a sporting event in 1956 that would create a stir statewide and nationally, that controversy would also affect the college music scene in Athens and set a new direction in upcoming years. 

The 1956 Sugar Bowl 

Georgia Tech had wrapped up their season with a 21-3 win over Georgia on Nov. 27, 1955, and was bowl bound.  The Jackets received an invitation to play the University of Pittsburg in the 1956 Sugar Bowl. A valuable member of their team was an African American running back named Bobby Grier. Gov. Marvin Griffin, who had a son at Tech, had quietly told Tech officials he would not stop the game but then he changed his mind and began publicly opposing Tech’s participation.  On Friday, Dec. 2, Griffin sent a telegram to the Board of Regents imploring them to prevent Georgia teams from participating in racially integrated events which had Blacks either as participants or in the stands.   

Tech players voted on Sunday to play, and their student body showed widespread support. The Board of Regents voted the following Monday to allow Tech to accept the Sugar Bowl bid since the game was outside the state. ** However, they specified that segregation policies would be followed in-state.  

Legislation followed. In 1957, Senate Bill 44 was introduced to ban all integrated athletic contests in the state, as well as other social functions such as dances and concerts. A violation of this act would be a misdemeanor crime, with a possible fine of up to $1,000 dollars or 60 days in jail.  

The governor supported the bill, but it received fierce opposition from sports writers and athletic clubs, who warned it would ruin Georgia athletics. SB 44 unanimously passed the Senate on Feb. 14, 1957. On Friday, Feb 22, the last day of the session, the House took up the bill and voted it down 93 to 68.   

While the next day after the vote, a full house cheered Louis Armstrong and his 5-piece combo in Stegman Hall, political interest in legislation on interracial athletics and social events would begin to cast a long shadow over entertainment on the state’s college campuses. Griffin’s letter to the Regents became policy and college administrators adhered to it but, private fraternity and sorority events were where the action was. Sanctioned campus-wide concerts continued to present only white performers while fraternities hired and hosted black artists such as Piano Red or his full band, Dr. Feelgood and The Interns.   

In 1959, a Red & Black article reports that the University Jazz Society had to cancel a March 4 concert by the Dave Brubeck quartet “because one member of the group is a Negro.”  

In the spring of 1960, an interfraternity council (IFC) effort to book a rhythm & blues show featuring major “mixed” race bands was vetoed by university officials. The proposed concert at Lake Welborn would have included Chuck Berry, The Coasters, Lloyd Price, LaVern Baker, The Imperials, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Joe Turner, Jimmy James & The Vagabonds, and Sonny Turner of The Platters. 

Despite the previous year’s rejection, Chuck Berry made it to Athens in 1961 anyway. Tau Epsilon Phi and friends enjoyed the Chuck Berry show and heard Maybelline and Sweet Little Sixteen long into the night. And the other entertainers who were in the 1960 proposed show would perform at off-campus parties within the next year. 

Still, the early ‘60s saw the university continue to book only white entertainment acts. Singer Anita Bryant headlined Greek Week and Lester Lanin’s Orchestra played a campus-wide event. Comedian Dave Gardner was in town. Off-campus, however, spring formals included Black groups such as The Clovers, Drifters, Four Steps of Rhythm, and The Isley Brothers. 

IFC launches a campaign. 

The Red and Black student newspaper occasionally printed letters to the editor complaining about the sanctioned campus entertainment as out of date. Attendance was dwindling but conversations about the issue between student leaders and administrators were going nowhere, according to the newspaper.  

On Feb. 8, 1962, the Student Council voted to undertake an effort to “enhance” UGA campus-wide entertainment, that is to challenge the university policy.  Ed Garland (president), and now a prominent Atlanta attorney, and Tom Johnson (secretary-treasurer of the junior class), later president of CNN, were appointed to lead the effort and work with the IFC, according to the Red and Black. 

“There was a tremendous desire to hear black entertainers,” Johnson recalls. “We had arranged for some acts off campus, but we wanted to have large dances with the best entertainment we could get. My fraternity, Sigma Nu, had contacts through Phil Walden at Capricorn, who represented Otis Redding, Little Richard, and Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts.”  

Garland remembers meeting with several organizations to round up enough support to pressure the administration, ranging from the debate team to the Panhellenic Council to the IFC.  

A formal campaign was launched that included an opinion poll of the student body.  A story about the poll ran in the paper, accompanied by a letter from then-IFC president Jim Blanchard, now retired chairman of Synovus, seeking input, and citing the need for change. The Red & Black editorialized in support of repealing the ban and an editorial cartoon suggested the student body appeal to U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy who was booked for a Law Day address at UGA that spring. 

Meanwhile, university-wide performers remained white. The Highwaymen were IFC’s Winter event; The Four Preps headlined Greek Week in April. Peter, Paul & Mary backed up by the Glenn Miller Orchestra were the Homecoming entertainment.   

1963 began with a hint of change in the air. The Lettermen were the Winter Quarter entertainment on Feb. 8, but two weeks later, Roy Hamilton, a prominent African American singer, was the featured artist for the annual ROTC Military Ball, a university-sanctioned event. The Red & Black pointed out in their coverage of his upcoming appearance that he was the first Black artist to appear on campus in years. By then, of course, a federal court decision in 1961 had forced the state to repeal its laws that barred support for integrated schools.  

Off campus, Black entertainers were taking center stage. Joe Turner, Atlanta’s Lotsa Poppa, James Brown & Flames, Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs, Huey Lewis & The Clowns, Jerry Butler, Bobby “Blue” Bland Revue, and a new Bill Lowry discovery, The Tams, had white students dancing in the streets. 

Then came the Greek Week – and it was BIG!  A large caravan of Rhythm & Blues acts was headed to campus. It was the 1963 version of the 1960 Caravan that university officials had nixed. Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, The Tams., a total of eight big name Black entertainers. The concert was advertised as the largest entertainment undertaking ever on campus. Five weeks later, Jackie Wilson appeared for an appreciative standing room only audience.  

In “Sweet Soul Music,” author Peter Guralnick writes, “To Rufus Thomas, Percy Sledge, and countless others the Southern fraternity circuit provided the best kind of gig: high paying, dignified (you got to wear a tuxedo, and the young men and ladies were dressed to the teeth), and full of the most appreciative audiences you could hope to encounter.”  

The dye was cast. Saturday nights in Athens became memorable and famous throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, and it all started when white fraternities wanted to party down to Black bands.   

* Al’s 15-year-old son Al, Jr. was his drummer and a decade later became a founding member of Booker T. & The M.G.s). 


Chris Jones is a retired government affairs executive with Verizon living in Oconee County since 2015.  He is an avid beach music collector and researcher and is former president of OLLI@UGA.  

Reader's Comments

Norman Baldwin says:

Fun and impressive article that brought back fond memories of partying at UGA. So glad that the Greeks stood up for quality entertainment regardless of race. Just wish minorities were more than entertainment for IFC and Panhellenic fraternities and sororities that are still overwhelming White in the 21st century. But hey, as a college professor, I don’t find the Greeks opposed to racial integration, nor do I find most parents opposed. It’s a complex issue and universities officials are largely to blame for non-diverse organizations. But people are tired of diversity diatribes, and this was much too fun an article than to dwell on a negative! So, I will conclude by sharing that I went through old minutes of my fraternity I was excited to learn that Ike and Tina Turner played at the Sigma Chi house in the 60s.

Chris Jones says:

Thanks Norm Baldwin for sharing your comments on the article. And Ike & Tina would have been quite the show. I bet the Sigma Chil’s loved it. Some folks who attended Ike & Tina’s show at Moina Michael told me she left the stage and came down into the audience and danced with some of the folks. And she was their age. Hope to see you at an OLLI event soon.
Thanks again.

David Gentry says:

Where do I start?! Was at UGA in the late 60’s and joined Sigma Chi in 1968. Party band favorites were Big George and the Colombians (black), the Swinging Medallians, Calabash (smoke show and got semi-nude on stage), etc. Soul & Beach Music (dip & sip) was king but rock was emerging. I became the Social Chairman and was in charge of the bands and the Juke Box. Also, went to work for Cecil Corbett at Beach Club Booking and booked bands at other fraternities and sororities at UGA, Brenau and other campuses. As a previous rock band member in high school I leaned a little towards that genre so the mix of bands became varied. One weekend it would be Big George & the Colombians and the next week it would be Caledonia Mission (guitar, bass, drums and singer). A good middle of the road was Willie T (black) and Hot Rain (white). At that time there were a lot of Willie T’s and it was hard to determine which one was the actual recording artist that released “I Want to Thank you John” which was a very popular soul song. This particular band did a great version of that song and then the rest of the evening it was rock with one of their most memorable songs being “Rock n Roll Hoochie Coo”. One final story that convinces me I had a guardian angel during my crazy, wild days in Athens. Willie T & Band had been booked. As normal I would go to the fraternity treasurer and get a check to pay the band which I would take to the bank downtown and cash. The evening they played it was time for their first break. I took the opportunity, along with one of my friends, to pay the band. I went to their van and got in the back where they were participating in inhaling some devil weed. They asked us to join….and we did. I then paid them. Years later as I recalled that night it came to me just how lucky we had been. Had the law stopped by their van at that time we were all imbibing, and also discovered the cash I had on me, there is no doubt we all would still be in jail! Great times and great music of all genres!

William Chris Jones says:

Thank you David for sharing your reminisance. Great stories. Willie Tee and Willie T & The Magnificents/Hot Rain is certainly another story in itself. Interesting to hear of your social chair experiences. I can imagine that was quite a challenge trying to balance the various musical tastes that were evolving at that time. Thank you. Chris

Carole E Taylor says:

it was with great interest that I read the article “Fraternities and Black music in 1962.”
I was a Sophomore that year at Beloit College, a small Wisconsin school. I was also a member of Delta Gamma. We pledged an African American woman having no idea what would follow. We were totally unprepared for the onslaught of national attention and press. Luckily we had the full support of the school Administration and our fellow students.

I think it was the first truly public stance for equality most of us had ever taken. It was also the first time most of us had personally seen blatant discrimination “justified” with blatant lies. Of course we lost our Charter choosing not to back down. However Delta Gamma National did make a written public apology 57 years later in 2019.

My husband was in Grad School at Berkeley in CA at the time and had a front row seat to the fight for change. And things have changed for the better. We still have a long way to go and the young people will stand up as did past generations.

Chris Jones says:

Thank you Carole for taking the time to read and comment on the article. Those were challenging times indeed. In researching the article, I was familiar with some of the news that resurfaced but had missed the specifics of what drove it. It was refreshing to see how young people responded and presented their case for change to the power structure.

Harry Thompson says:

Chris. Thanks for our college days history review. A great capsule. Challenging, changing but fun times. I was fortunate and privileged to have booked a number of the artists you listed while attending UGA. Wonderful memories.

Chris Jones says:

Thanks Harry for reading and commenting on the story. Wonderful memories indeed. I’d love to learn more about your band booking experiences.

Steve says:

Chris, thank you for your time, effort and research in bringing back so many fond music-memories of the 60’s in Athens.

Chris Jones says:

Thank you for reading the article Steve. Such great music and times. And so many forgotten and untold stories over the years.

Charles Van Rysselberge says:

To Chris Jones: Excellent article Chris! Thank you for writing it and posting it here! In the summer of 1967, my fraternity (Phi Kappa Tau) moved on to Milledge Avenue, into one of the big antebellum mansions. Several times during the 1967-68 school year, my senior year, we had our favorite band (Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs) perform at our Saturday night dance parties. They were terrific. Drinking was ok, but it had to be in an opaque cup! LOL. —-Charles Van Rysselberge

Chris Jones says:

Thanks for this story Charles. I enjoy hearing about remembrances. Maurice Williams and Zodiacs are one of my favorites still today.

Dub Anderson says:

My fraternity, the Chi Phi’s, invited Jackie Wilson to perform at our big dance, The Chaket. The day before the dance, his group pulled up at our house and I went out to greet them. He was in the back seat of an enormous Cadillac with leopard skin -looking seat covers. With him was a young woman. I asked Jackie where they would be staying? He said they we’re staying here. This was 1962 and a Black band staying in the Chi Phi house was inconceivable. He got mad when I said that wouldn’t work. He said the Green Book showed no places in Athens for his race to spend the night and they either stayed or they were heading for Chicago. I said I had to go in and ask the brothers for their rooms. We needed five rooms and I told the boys I would let Jackie and his friend sleep in my room. There was no resistance; no expressions of racism as you might expect from one of UGA’s wildest fraternities. There was a sense of adventure, of daring against the times, we all felt. The whole racial thing was way overblown by politicans. The times they were a changin’ and our fraternity represented that change that night with some degree of brotherhood. Jackie told me how much he appreciated our overlooking his color and he gave a hell of a performance.

Chris Jones says:

Great story Dub. Thank you for reading the article and especially for sharing your story.

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