Woodlawn High School first opened its doors in February 1922, with an initial enrollment of approximately 700 students. Although it was apparent from the beginning that music was to assume a prominent role in school activities, it was not until the fall of 1929 that an event occurred which would result in the birth of the Warblers Club.

A brief article in the October 3, 1929 issue of the Tatler announced this most significant event:

 "Mr. Light, the boys' new vocal teacher who is taking Mr. Noah's place made his debut at Woodlawn High School with two solos, 'The Hunter's Loud Haloo' and 'Tommy Lad.' Mr. Light is a graduate of Northwestern University and while at Northwestern he sang in the boys' Glee Club. He expects to begin soon on the organization of a glee club here." 

Thus a vision in the mind of a newly arrived vocal teacher (Mr. John Light) was to bear fruition through establishment of the Warblers Club which would mold the character of hundreds of young men over a span of almost half a century (1929 - 1977). Young men from all backgrounds would forever be bound together by a common thread, the love of fun, good music and singing. The Warblers was a haven for young men sharing the same interests, and friendships were made that would endure throughout the years to come.

Mr. Phillip Walkley, a charter member of the club, recalls that several names were considered, discussed, and upon a vote, the name "Warblers" was selected. Researching the Tatler we find the earliest reference to the name "Warblers" in the February 27, 1930 issue which listed newly elected Warblers Club Officers as: President, Morgan Gillespie; Vice-president, Hood Killebrew; Secretary, J. B. King; Treasurer, Ottice SchieIlie; Reporter, Malcom Jackson. 

According to a letter received from Mr. Enloe B. Billingsley, Sr., a charter member and third president of the club, early classes were conducted in one of the wooden buildings next to the school which were referred to as cottages. Mr. Billingsley provided the following "ditty", as he referred to it, which appeared in the Tatler:

"What are those melodious sounds
That from the cottage gladly abounds,
Rising forth and gladly swells
Then dies away like distant bells?

Let us investigate this mystery,
As Sherlock did in fiction history.
Up to the cottage we stealthy creep
And through the window silently peep.

Ah, it is no mystery at all,
For there they sit both large and small
The singing fools of Woodlawn High,
The Warblers Club, or else I lie."

by Enloe Billingsley

1932 Warblers Club

A picture of Mr. John Light and the club, kindly provided by Mr. Billingsley, appeared in the 1943 Woodlog and contained many of the charter members. It indicates that the 1932 club consisted of twenty-one members. The club appears to have maintained a relatively small membership until possibly the late 1940's or early 1950's. 

Exactly what influenced the beginning of the minstrel shows is not clear, but there is strong evidence that the wisdom and foresight of Mr. John Light weighed heavily in the selection of the club name as well as the type shows to be presented. At any rate, the first minstrel show was performed during the 1931-32 school year in the Woodlawn High School auditorium and was such a success that another presentation was given at Phillips High School. The first show appears to have been more of a variety show. Phillip Walkley was Interlocutor for the first minstrel, with John West, Archie Freeman, John Ringo, Alfred Bivings, Bradford Wood, and Paul McMahon as Endmen.

The following year, one minstrel show was presented in the Woodlawn High School auditorium, with a repeat performance at the Woodlawn Methodist Church. Phil Walkley recalls that the shows cleared two hundred dollars, most of which financed a party at the Naval Reserve on the Warrior River. The tradition born with this, the second minstrel, was to continue down through the years, taking the form of hayrides, house parties, and trips to Florida. Clearly these annual Warblers socials became the highlight of the school year.

Some music sung in the early minstrel shows was improvised locally with additions and deletions made on an "as needed basis." Songs in this category included the opening and closing chorus and "Oh Mona." Other songs were adopted from early published versions - such as "We Meet Again Tonight." We duly note that a few songs, those mentioned here being typical, have become an integral part of Warblers Club tradition, woven as uninterrupted threads throughout the history of the club.

 The minstrels continued annually with the tenth performance, labeled the Homecoming Minstrel, having been presented January 12, 1940. In addition to the minstrels, the Warblers gave a variety of other public performances, most of which win be discussed later. The club's first public appearance was at the Fountain Heights Methodist Church around 1930. The first major concert to be presented by the club was the Matinee Recital on March 29, 1933, at the Woodlawn High School auditorium and later at the old Howard College campus located in East Lake. 

The years of 1945 to 1960 represent an era which was filled with growth and tumultuous changes. World War II was brought to a close with a mixture of joy and sadness, since some of our Warblers from the earlier years failed to return. Soon faculty changes also would bring a dramatic shift in the club leadership when Mr. John Light retired from Woodlawn to devote all his time and energy to private voice instruction. He was the club director for eighteen years. 

New horizons for the Warblers developed with the arrival of Mr. Amos Hudson, a graduate from Birmingham-Southern College and the Birmingham Conservatory of Music. Equally skilled as a singer and pianist, he also possessed a musical sense of humor as evidenced by being the creator of the highly successful quartet, the "Cat Mountain Four." Armed with such credentials, the Warblers continued to flourish under his leadership until his departure two years later for Columbia University in pursuit of a Masters Degree. 

At this time, Mr. Joseph D. Turner, a graduate of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, a graduate of Woodlawn High School, and a Warbler, came "back home" in 1950 as a member of the music faculty. All these alterations in club sponsorship were reflected by other subtle internal transitions. The size of club membership began to expand from twenty voices to approximately forty-five. The "brother" club, the Cavaliers, also began to grow and both clubs took on new outward appearances. Gone were the long black choir robes. Presto! Warblers appeared in eloquent white jackets bearing a "W" insignia in gold and white. The Cavaliers burst forth in brilliant red jackets and a golden "C" inscription. It should be mentioned that membership in both clubs required singing a solo and then being voted on by the club members. Voting by the Warblers was a way of conducting its affairs and making decisions.

Involvement in community and school affairs began to take on mammoth proportions. Not only did the Warblers participate in events which were already well established, but they pioneered in producing new formats such as Stunt Night and a Spring Music Festival involving the entire music department. As their reputation continued to grow, so did the invitations to appear with community organizations and events such as the Junior Miss Alabama pageants, the Birmingham Civic Symphony, Alabama Education Association (AEA) conventions, Boutwell Auditorium events featuring celebrities such as Jane Froman (With a Song in My Heart), Marion Marlowe, Frank Parker, Raymond Burr (of Perry Mason fame), and various telethon drives. 

Thus the Warblers continued to nurture a spirit of civic responsibility through their musical performances for a wide variety of organizations including the Kiwanis, Lions, Optimists, and so forth, a spirit that would extend into their adult lives. 

During the 1950's, the popularity of the minstrel rose sharply and one matinee and one night performances soon became five night performances and one matinee performance. 

Technical changes occurred and the first such change utilized by the club was the black light in 1952. This was one of the most popular and effective features of all the shows thereafter. 

Scenery for the shows grew more refined and elaborate involving many man-hours of work, but provided a very pleasing backdrop for the shows. All scenery had to be constructed, painted, and completed during the AEA holidays as that was the only time the club had complete and uninterrupted access to the auditorium stage. 

Deep thought and ingenuity came into play as Endmen entrances began to develop with each succeeding show trying to go one better than the last; all resulting in more lively entertainment and anticipation for the audience. Endmen made their entrances in every conceivable way from coming out from under the stage to descending from the ceiling of the auditorium. They never tired of searching for new ways. 

Club members gladly spent their AEA holidays in preparation of the show in anticipation of an even better show than the last. 

The shows continued over a span of years with the last or Farewell Minstrel (33rd annual) being presented in 1963. This minstrel, as well as the club, received an outstanding write up in the March 1963 issue of The Birmingham News. The show featured old favorites of past minstrels. With the closing of the stage curtains on the Farewell Minstrel, the end of an era had arrived. 

No minstrels were performed in 1964 and 1965, but concerts and public appearances continued. Thanks to the ingenuity of its director, Mr. Joe "Uncle Joe" Turner, the Warblers presented its first ever Hobo Show in 1966. The show, featuring comedy and a variety of beautiful music, was such a success that it prompted a second like show in 1968 which the Tatler called "The Second Annual Hobo Convention." This was followed by the Third Hobo Show in 1969. Due to popular demand, a Farewell Hobo Show was presented in 1970. In 1972, The Return of the Hobo Show was performed.

Though the club continued to sing at school and community affairs and concerts, no further shows were held after 1972. 

After nearly twenty-seven years of leading and conducting the Warblers Club, Mr. Turner retired in 1976. At the conclusion of the 1977 school year, after being in existence for nearly fifty years, the club created by Mr. John Light ceased to exist.

 The Birmingham News article of March 14, 1963, previously mentioned, probably cast the most appropriate glimpse into the true heart of the club itself and the ideals for which it stood when it stated: "The old familiar songs, the bright young talent, the roars of laughter and the burst of applause ...... in making reference to a minstrel. This description applied equally to all occasions, whether it was a minstrel, concert, state competition, Christmas festival, or Stunt Night. The club was young talent with a love of the old songs and it thoroughly enjoyed producing comedy and entertaining its audience which resulted in bursts of applause. The club was by no means limited to a certain type of music. It performed a wide variety of music such as a "Tribute to Irvin Berlin," "Broadway Fantasy," music from "Porgy and Bess;" "The New Ashmolian Marching Society and Students Conservatory Band," and even religious music to include such favorites as "Let All the Nations Praise the Lord" and probably the most difficult and beautiful of all, "The Hallelujah Chorus." 

A most significant honor received by the Warblers Club was an award presented by the Birmingham Chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA). A 1962 Tatler reported that the award was for all Warblers from all times. The Certificate presented by SPEBSQSA read as follows: 

"Contributing to the musical enjoyment and enlightenment of the people of Birmingham by many years of high standard performances." "For fostering within their audiences an appreciation for four part male vocal harmony; in particular the barbershop style of singing." 

"For the contribution of many hours of time and talent in the preparation of their annual 'Warblers Minstrel Show and other activities." 

The club made various contributions to the school from moneys earned. These included a Steinway piano, contributions toward the general sound system to all rooms, contributions to beautify the exterior of the school and its grounds, a reproduction machine, music for the entire music department, including the band, and contributions to assist in the purchase of band uniforms. In later years, the club presented the school with such gifts as an RCA stereo tape recorder, four auxiliary speakers, twelve reels of tape, a phono-radio set, a black and white portable television, and two microphones and two spot lights for the auditorium. This was a way for the club to thank the faculty and students for their ever continuing support and assistance.

The history of the Warblers Club would not be complete without a few comments about its major figures. In this instance there are three such men. 

First was Mr. John Light, whose vision became a reality as the Warblers Club came into being. He molded the club well and his untiring efforts during his eighteen years at Woodlawn solidified the foundation of the club and set it on the proper course. 

Next was Mr. William Amos Hudson, whose devotion then and now symbolized the very club itself. Love of good music, singing, and light hearted humor kept the club on course. Members of the club who have met and worked with him over the past several months recognize all of these traits.

The third individual, Mr. Joseph D. "Uncle Joe" Turner, with the exception of the year 1977, led the club the rest of the way in twenty-six years of devoted and untiring service. He led the club through the years of growth and changes and into new eras of entertainment.

Without all of these men, the club could not have existed or survived. Each played a vital role in different parts of the club's history. All three gave unselfishly of their hearts, time, talent, and resources to lead the club to the heights it reached. These men had a tremendous responsibility; that of molding the character and lives of young men. Each has served as a parent, friend, father confessor and teacher to hundreds of young men. Each performed with the highest degree of success. Every Warbler, everywhere, holds these men very dearly in their hearts. 

In 1988, Warblers from all over the world gathered in Birmingham for a reunion, which included a major show held at the Alabama Theatre. The show sold out for three performances, including all the standing room allowed by the fire marshal. Hundreds were unfortunately turned away. During the preparation for this show the Warblers Club incorporated as Warblers Club, Inc., a non-profit corporation. Founding officers and directors were:

  Ron Viars
  Tommy Johnson
  Wayne Brand
  Lawrence Corley
  Gil Simmons
  Steve Thomas
Board Member:
  George Broom
Board Member:
  Neal Allen
Board Member:
  Bruce Sproull
Board Member:
  Wayne Carlisle
Board Member:
  Don Hawkins
Board Member:
  Darell Lucas
Board Member:
  Jim Rye
Board Member:
  Don Cruse

Since 1988 the Warblers Club has continued to perform regularly for private and public functions and has held major shows periodically, using the proceeds from performances to fund continuing operations and provide funding for local charities.

Warblers Club