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Children taking part in a community sing at Riverside Park in 1932. Photo by Minneapolis Tribune.

Community singing is timeless

Throughout history, people have sung together in groups in times of joy and sorrow, war and peace, and at all kinds of gatherings.

Origins in Minnesota

During World War I, community singing was mandated by state governments, including in Minnesota, as a way to keep spirits up, propagate patriotism, solidify culture, and to keep an eye on people. A statewide community song chairperson was given the task of making sure that every county and township had volunteer community songleaders and regular gatherings for singing.

Best Singing Park

After the war, community singing kept spreading. In Minneapolis from 1919 through the late 1950s, people by the thousands went to their neighborhood parks to sing on summer evenings.  The parks competed against each other for the annual prize of "the best singing park." These sings were co-sponsored by the Mpls. Park Board and the Mpls.  Tribune. The Tribune provided excellent daily coverage. Imagine: every sing scored by judges, standings printed in the paper, big silver trophies for the winner — it was the American Idol of participatory culture.

For more information about the community sings of the 20th century, see theses books: Minneapolis Park System by Theodore Wirth and City of Parks by David C. Smith.

Pictured below: Lucille Holliday (Swain), one of Minneapolis' busiest community songleaders from 1918 on.

Lucille Holliday, a.k.a. "Miss Pep"