Photo Credit unknown: The original Swedish Quartet, 1892
History of the Swedish Glee Club
The roots of the Swedish Glee Club go back to 1892 when a group of four men known as The Swedish Quartet was organized in Waukegan by Hjalmar Fredbeck. The quartet was composed of Hjalmar, his brothers Simon and Harold, and K. Hagstrom. Although this group later disbanded, its cultural contribution to the community was appreciated and other quartets were formed.
Interest in Swedish song increased among the Scandinavian population of Waukegan, and in 1905 a double quartet expanded into a chorus and was christened "The Swedish Glee Club." Although no official records of this organization are known to exist, the following translation from a Swedish language newspaper dated 1905 announces the group's formation: "A Swedish Chorus was organized in Waukegan, Illinois on 8 December under the leadership of Mr. Gustav Stark. Charter members were Adolf Anderson (treasurer), Oskar Bjork, Hjalmar Fredbeck, Erik Forsberg, Einar Hellman, Karl Hellstrom, Jonas Johnson (secretary), Axel Lybeck, Bernard Nystrom, Charles Ramsell and Richard Rinaldo (president).
A tradition of dinners, picnics, and other social activities was quickly established in the Glee Club and has been carried on all through the years. Benefit concerts for worthy causes were given early in the Club's history. Two such occasions were in 1906 when, according to Einar Hellman, the group raised $200 for Dr. Watkins's tuberculosis colony, and in 1909 when $ 300 was raised for the benefit of Jane McAllister Hospital.
In 1913, the group officially joined the American Union of Swedish Singers (AUSS), becoming affiliated with dozens of male choruses from the United States and Canada and eligible to participate in the biennial singing conventions of the AUSS and its regional division. These conventions have always been a highlight in the singing experience of Glee Club members.
The first six years of the 1920's were a rough time for the Glee Club. Minutes for November, 1921 report a poll of the members to determine whether they wanted to continue rehearsals. An entry for January, 1922 brings the sad news that nine singers resigned and only four remained. The four decided to try to sing as a quartet and if they could "show progress the Club's property will be turned over to them as custodians." The following month the treasury was divided and each member was given $9. In September, 1925 by-laws were adopted and they included an amendment that stated, "As long as four members are willing to continue, the Club cannot be dissolved." One hundred copies of the by-laws were to be printed in Swedish. In the 1920's the arrival of several young Swedes who were good singers made possible the revitalization of the Club.
As early as 1914, the Glee Club members were making plans toward building a clubhouse, and by 1929 the members were again talking about building a clubhouse. Apparently the ensuing Great Depression deterred any further possibility of building in that era. It was on April 21, 1939 that the Waukegan Swedish Glee Club was granted a charter by the State of Illinois as a non-profit organization. "With incorporation came our big opportunity to develop the Club," recalls Swante Bystrom who was president at that time. The City of Waukegan granted a liquor license to the Club at this time. A prominent feature in the Club's quarters on May Street were the slot machines which, of course, were legal at that time and produced a nice flow of cash for the Club.
A new class of membership was introduced - the associate membership - in 1939. While the singers in the Chorus (the active members) were required to be at least partially of Scandinavian ethnic origin, the associate members were not required to be Scandinavian and were not permitted by the by-laws to hold any property rights, vote, or hold office in the Club.
In 1949, the physical home of the Swedish Glee Club moved from rented space on the south side of Waukegan to the Club's very own building. Major additions to the original building were completed in 1957 and 1960 and minor additions and modifications were made from time to time. The building and surrounding property represented tangible evidence of the "good singing spirit" of the Club mentioned by Richard Rinaldo in his history and an edifice far beyond the wildest dreams of the singers who had a dream of building a clubhouse in 1914.
With far more adequate space, the associate membership increased many times over from the approximately 800 in 1948. Over the years since 1949 a wide variety of social activities provided active and associate members and their families and guests with a rich social fare. These included an annual picnic, children's Christmas party, steer roast, ethnic nights, midsummer festival, Julmiddag (Christmas dinner), New Year's Eve party, St. Pat's party, and many other social events. Dinners, smorgasbords, noon lunches, banquets, seafood buffets, Sunday morning brunches, and torsk dinners pleased the palates of thousands of members and guests. The Club had a reputation for fine cuisine served in a congenial and dignified atmosphere. One of the Club's highlights was singing at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in September, 1977 at the invitation of the ASEA Company of Sweden. The occasion was a gala celebration of Sweden's participation in the America's Cup sailing competition.
Almost 40 years ago, the Glee Club renewed its cycle to grow, which had started soon after the Club was established. In the fall of 1976 a committee of singers began searching for property to purchase as an investment. The work of this committee culminated in the purchase of the 14-acre Myrtle (Mrs. Howard) Erickson property near Gurnee on April 15, 1978. The evolution of the physical home of the Swedish Glee Club moved from a fulfillment of the dream of owning our own beautiful clubrooms on Belvidere Road in Waukegan (1949-1987) to rehearsing for a short time on the "farm" near Gurnee. However, with the onslaught of steady development in Lake County in the late 1980s, it seemed prudent to sell. And so, the property was sold in 1989, and eventually 28 luxury homes were built on the site. The Glee Club rehearsal found a home for the next 20 years at the American Legion Hall in Lake Forest, IL. We gathered there for rehearsals as well as social events. At the start of the 2016 fall season, a new rehearsal location, St James Lutheran Church on Route 43 in Lake Forest, became the Glee Club's newest home, chosen for its easier access by main roads and its ample parking. The church provides a large room for rehearsals and an excellent piano.
A women's Swedish Chorus was founded in 2005 primarily consisting of singers' wives. In 2013, the two choruses were combined to function under one name, the Swedish Glee Club. An a capella octet, named Sångkvist (singing branch), was formed in 2013 to function as an ambassador group of the larger chorus when a concert venue calls for a smaller ensemble. Main concerts continue to be held in various churches and venues around the Lake County.
Through the years, the Glee Club's purpose continues - to promote Scandinavian song and culture.