READ IT, SAVE IT, COPY IT, FILE IT, FORWARD IT, DISCUSS IT AND BE RENEWED IN THE SPIRIT OF THE FRATERNITY
In a 1946 edition of the Sphinx magazine, there is a picture of actor and humanitarian Paul Robeson on the stage of the auditorium along with hundreds of brothers including Belford Lawson, Raymond Cannon with their mouths opened belting out the fraternity hymn. Can you imagine what an experience it must have been listening to Robeson use his deep baritone voice exclaiming "Alpha Phi Alpha, the pride of our hearts and loved by us dearly art thou." It is a song that bind the brotherhood throughout Alphadom, our sacred National Hymn.
Who was this brother who used his gift from God to pen the words of the National Hymn of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and how were his words selected? His name was Brother Abram L. Simpson. Simpson was initiated into Xi Chapter between 1912-1914 at Wilberforce University. Active from the very beginning of his time in the fraternity, in 1914, at the seventh annual convention in Chicago, Illinois, Brother Simpson was elected Vice President of the Fraternity and served under the administration of General President Callis and Long. Simpson's responsibility was to facilitate new chapter applications, an arduous task at that time because all communication was done by handwritten letters. At the 1915 convention, Brother Simpson was appointed to the Ritual Committee by General President Henry Arthur Callis. Simpson graduated from Wilberforce in 1914 and like many young men and women of his era found himself teaching in the deep south. Simpson accepted a position at Morris Brown College (then known as Morris Brown University) in Atlanta, Georgia, actually becoming the first known Alpha man in the Atlanta. Morris Brown had two other Alpha's associated with the school including the first president of Morris Brown College A. St. George Richardson who later became an Alpha after his tenure as president and helped to charter the Upsilon Lambda Chapter in Jacksonville in 1924 and Professor John H. Lewis, a 1913 initiate of Zeta Chapter at Yale. Lewis and Charles Wesley were line brothers. In 1920, Lewis would return to Morris Brown as its President.
As early as 1915, Simpson began communicating the idea of establishing a chapter in the deep south. He said:
"I have tried every possible means available to establish chapters in the reputable colored schools but have met with opposition from the white Presidents and members of the faculty. They seem to have a grudge against colored students having fraternities. We have in this city a University club composed of graduate of various schools. The greater portion went to school where there was no fraternities. Out of the remainder we have three Alpha Phi Alpha men, Brother John H. Lewis, Yale; Brother Crogman and myself. Now it is my power toconquer all obstacles and make the University Club a chapter of the fraternity."
In between teaching, Simpson enjoyed writing poetry. He perhaps did not realize then that his words of inspiration for his beloved Alpha would be adopted as the lyrics for the official song. He knew that several attempts had been made to select an appropriate song for the fraternity. Jewel Robert Harold Ogle and Brother J.P. Boags had written words in 1910 and placed it to tune of Maryland, My Maryland, which ironically was the same tune that Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (the professional fraternity for African-American men) used for its fellowship song. The words of Ogle and Boag song were: Sons of Alpha are, One in love and charity, Let our thoughts of sadness fly, For our own, our Alpha Phi!
Since there was not an official fraternity song, the annual convention
banquets closed with different tunes:
In 1916, the convention expressed interest in producing an Alpha Phi Alpha Song book. At the 12th annual convention in Chicago, Illinois in 1919, Abram Simpson presented his lyrics to the convention. The song was referred to the Song Committee. No decision was made and the brothers closed the convention by singing what had become a tradition "God Be With You till We Meet Again." At the 13th Annual convention in 1920, no mention was made of the song that Simpson had submitted and the convention closed with the singing of "Blest Be the Tie that Binds." Finally at the 14th Annual Convention in Baltimore, Maryland in 1921, with the attendance of Jewels Murray, Kelley and Ogle, two significant items occurred. The convention was charged with collecting songs from each chapter and publishing a fraternity song book and the National Fraternity Hymn was adopted. The arrangement of music was set to the tune of "Far Away in the South" by Brother John R. Irby also of Xi Chapter and the words of Abram L Simpson rang out poetically calling for Alphas to "cherish thy precepts, thy banner shall be raised. " The first convention where the fraternity hymn was lifted collectively by the brothers was the 15th Annual Convention in 1922 in St. Louis, Missouri. Wesley in History of Alpha Phi Alpha said that "the brothers formed the circle with clasped hands and sang the "Fraternity Song." We have been singing ever since. Simpson died in 1955 and his "recollection has slowly faded away." The next time we sing the hymn let us remember Abram L. Simpson.
A few other Notable Alpha Songwriters and Composers:
Did you know that.....
-the fraternity recorded an Album in the 1960's with songs of Alpha including the "correct" way to sing certain phrases of the hymn.
-Brother Donny Hathaway won a Grammy award in 1973. A native of
Chicago, he produced, arranged, and conducted for such artists as Lena
Horne, Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler, the Staple Singers and many others.
He was married to the former Eulaulah Vann and they both graduated
from the Howard University School of Music. They had one daughter, Eulaulah
Donyll(now an outstanding vocalist herself). He was initiated into Beta
Chapter in the mid 1960's(still looking for exact date and trying to find
his chapter brother in Atlanta that I met briefly) and entered Omega Chapter
on January 14, 1979, in New York City. Brother Hathaway recorded
a song titled "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother."
From the Lips of a Jewel:
Skip's Quote for today:
Skip's Favorite Borrowed Quote
A BROTHER WANTS TO KNOW:
On the drawing board for next week: (April 26-May 1)
Monday-Meet the 91 year old daughter of Jewel Robert Harold Ogle,
Mrs. Helen Ogle Atkins.
Missed a back issue. Don't fret. Email me and let me know and through the cyber it will go:
No 1- Callis's First Wife: Alice Moore Dunbar
I may allude to it, but remember if I can't prove it, I want use it! Skip