Fourth of July, 1925. This photo shows a “community sing” in Riverside Park, which is located on the West Bank near Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota. At the time this image was created the park was one of the most heavily used in the city, serving as a playground and recreation space for the city’s densely populated Sixth Ward, which was inhabited almost exclusively by new immigrants to the United States. As was typical for the time, the “community sing” pictured here had drawn thousands of residents to the park for the evening. They hoped to win recognition from city-wide judges–besting other neighborhoods–for their community spirit and enthusiasm for vocal music.
“Community sings” were conceived as patriotic rallies at the beginning of World War I, as part of the effort to mobilize a reluctant population to support American entrance into the European war. They continued after the Armistice, organized by the Minneapolis Park Board and the Minneapolis Tribune, which awarded trophies to the parks that could draw the most singers. Judges would join the crowd, scoring each gathering for attendance and enthusiasm.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the “sings” became enormous community happenings. Before air-conditioning or television, Minneapolitans lived in the parks on warm summer evenings, sometimes sleeping outside overnight when the heat in their homes became unbearable. The “sings” became a regular part of the summer months; each park drew crowds of 10,000 neighbors. In 2013, Harry Anderson recalled the “community sings” with great fondness. There were “thousands of people singing, some of them maybe not the best, but you never knew it because it sounded wonderful,” he remembered. ” When you have several thousand people singing, you can’t hear any bad ones, they’re all good.”
In recent years, a group called Minnesota Community Sings has worked to revive the tradition of “community sings” in Minneapolis Parks.
The image is from the uncatalogued newspaper photos at the Hennepin County Special Collections. It was digitized by fantastic citizen-researcher Rita Yeada. Information for this post is from Dan Olson, “Reviving the ‘community sing’ tradition,” MPR News, May 17, 2013.