The 1932 Washington Bicentennial Stone dedication at Parkersburg City Park where Parkersburg High School’s new A Cappella Choir performed under the direction of Marie Boette. The stone marks the 200th anniversary of George Washington, the first president of the United States. (Photo provided by Jeff Little)

PARKERSBURG — The Parkersburg High School A Cappella Choir will be featured in a documentary to be shown at the Smoot Theater.

Roger Blackburn will present “Ninety Years of the PHS A Cappella Choir, Part 1” at 7:30 p.m. on April 25 at the Smoot where admission will be by donation.

The documentary will cover the first 34 years of the choir, which was established in 1931 under the direction of Mary Boette, Blackburn said.

The directors of the period covered by part 1 are Boette (1931-1936), Leonard Withers (1937-1939), Esther Abels Cunningham (1940-1950), Helen Houston (1950-1951) and Esther Abels Cunningham (1952-1966 .)

No video exists of the choir’s performances in the period covered by Part 1, so the show will feature memorabilia including photographs, posters, programs and newspaper articles, Blackburn said.

Music teachers at Parkersburg High School in 1952, left to right: Esther Cunningham, A Cappella Choir; Frank Schroeder, brass band; Frank M. Gelber, orchestra; Lorene Allen, voice; Helen Huston, director of glee clubs. (Photo provided)

“It will be an interesting presentation” he said.

Blackburn collaborates with the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society. The April 25 presentation at the Smoot is a meeting of the Historical Society, President Bob Enoch said.

The Historical Society’s April-May newsletter includes a photograph of the first choir from Parkersburg High School’s 1932 yearbook, the “Parhischan”. Boette is in the front row dressed in a choir robe.

The members of the first choir were Lucille Cunningham, Thelma Conley, Christine Schilling, Dorothy Strimer, Mildred Butcher, Mary Belle Hartleben, Eloise Foutty, Nell Cain. Second row: Josephine Hayman, Dorothy Wilson, Virginia Smith, Barbara Payne, Helen Stalnaker, Carlyle Koon, Garnet Foster, Mardell Murray, Gladys Cress, Helen Bond, Winifred Simpson, Richard Corbitt, William Ash, Francis Alexander, Karl McAtee, Clarence Boso , Robert Elzy, William Backus, Donald Givens, David Murphy, Howard Rexroad, Foster Lytle, Dorothy Burgy, Dorothy Tigner, Miriam Couch, Mildred Parsons, Grayce Shultz, Bruce Day, Carl Loose, Donald McDivitt and Martin Schilling.

The second part will include the years of the choir under the direction of Jean Singer (1967-1997), Catherine Martin (1998-2004), Pamela McClain (2004-2018) and Joshua Dubs (2018-present).

The Parkersburg High School A Cappella Choir in the 1932 “Parhischan”. Left to right, front row, Lucille Cunningham, Thelma Conley, Christine Schilling, Dorothy Strimer, director Mary Boette, Mildred Butcher, Mary Belle Hartleben, Eloise Foutty , Nell Cain. Second row, Josephine Hayman, Dorothy Wilson, Virginia Smith, Barbara Payne, Helen Stalnaker, Carlyle Koon, Garnet Foster, Mardell Murray, Gladys Cress, Helen Bond, Winifred Simpson. Third row, Richard Corbitt, William Ash, Francis Alexander, Karl McAtee, Clarence Boso, Robert Elzy, William Backus, Donald Givens, David Murphy, Howard Rexroad, Foster Lytle. Not pictured are Dorothy Burgy, Dorothy Tigner, Miriam Couch, Mildred Parsons, Grayce Shultz, Bruce Day, Carl Loose, Donald McDivitt and Martin Schilling. (Photo provided)

“It might take three volumes before it’s all over,” said Blackburn.

Blackburn, an accomplished trumpeter who joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1974, has been working on the documentary since 2017.

“It was a long time ago,” he said.

Among the people he interviewed for the documentary are the late Phil Sturm, a local historian who sang in the choir, Bill Warfield, Patty Hartleben and Singer, Martin and McClain.

“It was interesting to hear the different points of view they have,” said Blackburn.

Parkersburg High School’s last A Cappella choir under Esther Cunningham taken during the 1965-66 school year. (Photo provided)

Blackburn produced other documentaries about the Parkersburg High School Marching Band and the streetcar system in Parkersburg.

“Roger is doing a great job” said Enoch.

Blackburn’s work is top-notch, according to Felice Jorgeson, art director of Smoot.

“They are so well done historically and are also so entertaining,” she says.

Jorgeson hopes that audiences and current members of the choir gain an appreciation for the history and traditions of the choir and the organization of which they are a member.

The Parkersburg High School A Cappella Choir from 1961 to 1962 under the direction of Esther Cunningham. (Photo provided)

The show will include the current choir, which will perform “Oh come, oh come Emmanuel” during his procession, Jorgeson said. The choir will then sing Parkersburg High’s alma mater.

“Hopefully everyone in the audience will sing along,” Jorgeson said.

Jess Mancini can be reached at [email protected]




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