1945: The beginnings of Spring Sing
The first Spring Sing was held on May 18, 1945, at the now-demolished UCLA Greek theatre. Created by then-ASUCLA director William Ackerman, the competition was advertised as a showcase for “Top Bruin Vocal Talent” and featured singing groups made of UCLA students.
Contestants created groups of anywhere between 10 and 30 students, and after paying a $2 entrance fee, were entered into either male or female divisions. For the competition, 11 different groups performed two songs each: one that was UCLA-themed and another that was unique to their organization. Three Westwood businessmen, an executive secretary for the University Religious Conference and a UCLA assistant professor of music judged the first Spring Sing.
In the women’s division, students from sorority Pi Beta Phi took top honors, while members of Alpha Tau Omega took first place in the male division. The winning teams were announced at the top of Janss Steps and were given trophies with their names engraved on them. In addition to the student competition, the results for the year’s undergraduate student government elections, analogous to modern Undergraduate Students Association Council elections, were also announced at the first Spring Sing.
– Daniel Maraccini
1952: Ronald Reagan as master of ceremonies
The seventh annual Spring Sing, hosted at a packed Hollywood Bowl for an audience of 6,000, was competitive to a record-breaking degree. Two thousand six hundred students in 74 groups fought for coveted performance slots at the Hollywood Bowl, but only 700 students in 25 groups made it to the stage. According to a spread in the May 23 issue of the Daily Bruin, the popular Warner Bros. actor and future president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, made a return appearance as master of ceremonies for the show. The paper also mentioned that basketball coach John Wooden was “mighty interested” in attending the show, which students on campus could attend for a special price of 50 cents.
A surprise entry joined the UCLA contestants the night of Spring Sing – the USC Phi Delta Theta fraternity. The fraternity, who won the 1952 Troy Songfest, challenged the Bruin groups to a showdown. The Trojan fraternity had to settle for a consolation prize, however, despite its pre-show assertion that the UCLA groups would be “a pushover.”
– Shreya Aiyar
1983: A real bear?
Organizers brought a real, live bear to the Spring Sing stage in 1983. Its name was Hercules.
The entire cast and audience sang the UCLA alma mater as the bear, UCLA’s mascot for the night, sat on stage, surrounded by the sounds of the marching band, cheering performers and spirit squad members. The rest of the night was full of more UCLA pride: The day was then-chancellor William Ackerman’s birthday, so the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to Ackerman, who also sent the evening’s proceeds to a scholarship fund.
A surprise performance of the evening featured five of the original members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity who competed at the first Spring Sing in 1945, to whom the show was dedicated.
– Shreya Aiyar
1989: Move to the Los Angeles Tennis Center
Political activism surrounding the Vietnam War in the ’60s shrunk Spring Sing into nonexistence for almost a decade. In 1978, a small version of Spring Sing reappeared, but organizers still wished to recapture the outdoor excitement and grandeur that filled the Hollywood Bowl in the event’s heyday. Rain washed out any opportunity to hold the event outside in 1988, but the 36th annual Spring Sing in 1989 was successfully held at the Los Angeles Tennis Center, which underwent $18,000 worth of renovations to convert it into an amphitheater specially for the event.
1989 also marked the first year without a Spring Sing emcee. Instead, nonmusical sketches and vignettes – the precursors to the comedy group Company – were performed in between the singing acts. Alumna Nasim Pedrad performed with Company at Spring Sing from 2001 to 2003 when it was held at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. Pedrad, who went on to act on “Saturday Night Live,” remembers running across the outdoor stage at Spring Sing, laughing and performing sketches in the pouring rain. Soaking wet Company members screamed about how fun it was, even though Pedrad thought being near the electrical equipment might be a hazard, she said.
“That’s so crazy it’s not there anymore,” Pedrad said. “I just got super nostalgic for the tennis courts for no reason.”
– Shreya Aiyar and Lindsay Weinberg
2000: Adam Levine who?
In 2000, a band called Kara’s Flowers lost Spring Sing’s Las Doñas Award for best band entry to student group Barely Manilow. One year later, Kara’s Flowers would regroup under the name Maroon 5. The band, named after a girl the members had a collective crush on, formed in 1994 when all four members attended the Brentwood School in Los Angeles. Kara’s Flowers took a hiatus when bassist Mickey Madden and drummer Ryan Dusick began attending UCLA, but reunited to perform at Spring Sing at the Los Angeles Tennis Center during Madden and Dusicks’ third year.
Vocalist Adam Levine, clad in a sleeveless tank top and wearing a blue bandana around his head, led the band in a song called “These Days,” a tune that foreshadowed the pop-rock sound the band has today. However, the judges, who included Thora Birch of “American Beauty” and Matthew Lawrence of “Boy Meets World,” preferred Barely Manilow’s parody of “Copacabana” complete with a staggering, drunken Lola. Sara Bareilles, a friend of the band members, won the Northern California Alumni Grand Sweepstakes Award in the same year with her song “Gravity.”
– Gabriella Kamran
2002: Stevie Wonder, Sara Bareilles
At the 2002 Spring Sing, which took place on a chilly May night at the Los Angeles Tennis Center, soul and R&B artist Stevie Wonder received the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement. Initially, attendees were uncertain as to whether or not Wonder was going to perform for the audience. However, at the conclusion of his acceptance speech, the singer stepped down to the keyboard to perform “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “My Cherie Amour” and “Superstition.”
Student Richey Lam won applause for his original song “College Years,” but was beat out for best solo performance by what the Daily Bruin called “the equally talented but less exciting” Sara Bareilles. Bareilles, who also performed at a Spring Sing show as part of Awaken A Cappella, went on to be a Grammy-nominated solo artist and become known for songs like “King of Anything” and “Brave.”
Despite technical issues and poor acoustics at the Los Angeles Tennis Center, the ska, punk and pop band Winston Thought also garnered applause from the 4,000-person audience and took home the award for best band entry.
– Daniel Maraccini
2008: Lionel Richie
In 2008, student comedy group Company performed a hit sketch titled “South Campus’ Nice and Slow,” which poked fun at South Campus’ hidden and unexpected party-animal side.
Soul and pop musician Lionel Richie was the recipient of the 2008 George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, but his speech was the highlight of the night, according to the Daily Bruin article. He quoted lines from the Company sketch in his speech he related to, like “My room smells like vinegar and failure” and “You can’t touch this itch without a glove,” because students can only get away with those lyrics in college.
Second-year student Katie Boeck won the Northern California Alumni Grand Sweepstakes Award for Best Overall Entry for the second year in a row, performing her song “White Lies” to a sold-out Los Angeles Tennis Center crowd of 5,300.
– Shreya Aiyar