— by Kim Davenport
As someone who enjoys researching local history, and who also happens to come from a long line of music teachers, it is not surprising that I have spent a substantial amount of time over the past few years exploring the story of Margaret Rawson Goheen and the choral program she developed at Tacoma’s Lincoln High School from the late 1920s through the early 1950s.
What continues to surprise me, though, is how just when I think I’ve finished with a research project, given a presentation or two and published an article, yet another artifact appears! So it was when I visited the Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room recently, ready to move on to an entirely new project, when the librarians there presented me with a ‘find’ from deep in their collection: two 78-rpm records, bound with the image above – the class project of the 1951-52 Lincoln Choir.
By the early 1950s, the high standards of Mrs. Goheen’s choral program were well established. The choir had been self-governing since the 1930s, taking on a substantial project each year – fundraising for new choir robes, equipment, or a charitable project in the community – and this in addition to performing 40-50 times each year at the school, around the region, and in competitions.
I’ve already shared on this site the story of the choir’s performance with the great African-American baritone Paul Robeson in his first visit to Tacoma. As soon as it’s available electronically, I’ll also share an article published earlier this year about the 1937 Lincoln Choir’s dramatic trip to St. Louis for a national music competition.
During the World War II era, the choir sang for soldiers recuperating at military hospitals, as well as for both white and black soldiers in downtown Tacoma’s segregated USO clubs. Throughout Mrs. Goheen’s tenure, she supported her students in forming their own small ensembles which performed around the city. Enterprising students such as Lee Hale, who would go on to a lifelong career in show business, earned Mrs. Goheen’s trust to write and produce a full-length musical – Of Men and Models – to replace the usual Spring operetta production in 1942.
These stories have been accessible because family chose to donate Mrs. Goheen’s scrapbooks to the Tacoma Public Library, allowing a glimpse into the personal details of these stories through photographs, newspaper clippings, and correspondence. And yet this is the first opportunity I’ve had to hear a full-length recording of the choir.
Two of the four sides of the two 78-rpm records had some scratches – but the remaining two give us the opportunity to hear ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, in an arrangement by Fred Waring, a name I was not surprised to find connected to Mrs. Goheen and her choir.
Like many current Lincoln teachers I know, Mrs. Goheen frequently spent her summers or other off-time paying her own way to professional development opportunities, always seeking new inspiration to bring to her teaching. One such trip, which was documented by copious notes in her scrapbooks, was a trip to a Fred Waring choral workshop.
Without further ado, I’m pleased to share the recording, supplemented with historic images, all of which are courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library: