The Georgetown Chimes are an accident of Yale’s and GU’s athletic policies from the time of World War II. Yale senior and back-up quarterback Francis E. (Frank) Jones was about to start his first game as Yale’s quarterback when he received notice to report for service with the U.S. Army.
Returning home from the Pacific Theater after the end of World War II, now Cpt. Frank Jones planned to use his final year’s football eligibility to play quarterback, finally, for Yale. While he was at war, Frank’s dad petitioned Yale (and Yale agreed) to award his degree, so he could return home and begin law school immediately after the war. However, on his return home Frank learned that Yale would not permit a grad student to play football. Frank still wanted to play, and understood Georgetown would permit it, so Frank headed to Georgetown. But, by the time Frank arrived, Georgetown had re-visited its football eligibility rules, and Frank’s aim was dashed. He enrolled at Georgetown Law School nonetheless, and instead of football, joined Georgetown’s Glee Club.
Frank sang with his father and four uncles before college, but was too busy as an athlete at Yale to join one of Yale’s a cappella harmony groups. Now, post-war, remembering the a cappella harmony tradition at Yale, Frank believed that he could create a barbershop singing group that emphasized brotherhood and friendship through harmony.
He asked then-Glee Club director Edward P. “Doc” Donovan to name the best bass on campus. “No question about it, Chuck Laiosa,” came the reply. Frank tracked down Chuck Laiosa, and together they began to recruit the best male voices at Georgetown for the Chimes. The Chimes quickly developed their own following as an independent performing group, but for its first 15 years the Chimes also was very much part of the Glee Club, and when Doc Donovan died suddenly, Jones agreed to serve as Glee Club director on an interim basis until Georgetown University Professor of Music and Washington Post Music Editor Paul Hume accepted the assignment.
The “Georgetown Chimes” take their name from the original bells of in the South Tower of Healy Hall. In 1946, Jones, Laiosa and several others were singing for themselves as the tower bell chimes struck in the South Tower of Georgetown University’s Healy Hall. Jones named the group on the spot. “Alma Mater Tower Bells – The Georgetown Chimes” also is the name of a song the Chimes perform and have recorded, composed by Doc Donovan. Later, when those original tower bells fell into disrepair, the Chimes’ appearance with the Glee Club on the Ed Sullivan Show led to a donation of carillons to replace the original “Georgetown Chimes.”
In the years since their founding, the Georgetown Chimes have grown from the original quartet into a group of 257 Chimes, from #1, Frank Jones, in 1946, to #258 Toby Nelson, the current “Baby Chime.”
While their roots still lie in traditional barbershop standards, the Chimes’ repertoire has grown to include all types of vocal performance: from 50’s and 60’s classics to show tunes, from hymns and choir pieces to modern-day Top 40 music. Beginning with the eponymous first record of 1946, the Chimes have recorded over two dozen albums and established a massive repertoire of music.
“Once a Chime, Always a Chime”
The Chimes view the group as a tradition, entrusted from one Chime to the next, year over year to now, more than 60 years from its start. With singing in harmony as a foundation for lasting friendship, the Chimes have become a family that spans over three generations—18-year-old college freshmen call themselves brother Chimes of the octogenarian founders, and of every member in between. The Chimes network reaches across time to connect men of several generations. Wives, children, and grandchildren all attend Chimes events, as do their many Georgetown fans.
Do you have what it takes to be a Georgetown Chime?
The next opportunity to audition will be at the start of the Spring 2016 semester. Click here to get more information on becoming a Chime. If you have any questions, e-mail our Business Manager, Matt Beshke.