Berry Ballad Girls start new traditions, honor old

Jameson Filston, Campus Carrier Arts & Living Editor

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Members of the original Berry Ballad Girls pose while playing the dulcimer and doing handiwork. The original group was started by Martha Berry and performed until 1960.

For the first time in nearly 60 years, the female singing group Berry Ballad Girls sang for an audience on Friday. The female singinging group, which was originally started by Martha Berry, has started again as a modern adaptation of the old group.

A new all-girls a capella group started this semester and became one of four currently active singing groups in the music department. The girls in the group had trouble deciding on a name. Paul Neal, associate professor of music and director of choral activities, suggested the name Berry Ballad Girls as an homage to the former group, which has not performed since 1960. 

“We wanted to reclaim the past a little bit but also be a contemporary a capella group,” Neal said.

Singing in the group has been a unique experience for the girls involved. Senior Rachel Mayo, choirs manager, said that the girls have really clicked as a group and in their commitment to making good music.

“We are all driven to make our music fun, but also make it quality,” Mayo said.

Berry Singers was the first a Capella group at Berry, and is not performing this semester because of a lack of men who tried out. However, Neal hopes to start a men’s group called the “Berry Tones” in the fall and have both groups sing separately and continue Berry Voices as a mixed group.

“We are starting new traditions,” Neal said. “It’s been fun to see the group develop.” 

The Berry Ballad Girls is going for more of a pop feel compared to the other groups’ more traditional choral sound. They are also exploring the incorporation of choreography with their songs. So far they have performed twice, first at scholarship night, then at a joint concert with the men’s and women’s choirs. 

After their debut at scholarship night, the girls got the opportunity to meet a lady who was in the original group. Luci Bell, who was in the original Berry Ballad Girls from 1957 to 1960, got the opportunity to talk to the girls who carry her group’s legacy. 

Bell said that the group did many special events back in the day. She recalled going around the region to sing, and even perform on television. She said that traveling was one of the main reasons she enjoyed being in the group.

Bell also recalled serving visitors at the House O’ Dreams. She and two other Berry Ballad Girls also served food, but after they cleaned up they would go back and sing for the visitors. The bonds she had with the other girls still exists.

“When I see them, we are still friends,” Bell said.

The group wants to continue the traditions of the Berry Ballad Girls in more than name. Neal said that the girls who are part of the group want to research the ballads and sing modern versions of them in future shows. The group also wants to travel off campus and perform as the first group did.

“Bringing that tradition back gave it a lot of sentimental value,” Mayo said.

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