Looking Back: 1953 USA Choir Tour

Today at the Cathedral View More
8:00am Morning Prayer
8:30am Doors open for sightseeing
8:30am Eucharist
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Choral Evensong
5:30pm Cathedral closes

Looking Back: 1953 USA Choir Tour

St Paul's Cathedral's 1953 tour of the USA was remarkable in many ways, not least in that it took two months and involved 41 concerts.

In today’s fast-moving world of budget airlines and online check-ins, it’s easy to forget how complex international travel was in the early 1950s - in its many centuries, the Cathedral Choir had never before sung outside the UK.

After a service attended by President Eisenhower in St Paul's, at which he presented a Roll of Honour to 28,000 UK-based Americans who had died in WW2, Canon John Collins, wrote: "No one who was present at that service could doubt that it manifestly symbolised the best which binds our two nations in friendship which can never be broken so long as we share those common aims for which the sacrifice commemorated was made.”

The notion of the tour was sparked in November 1951 when Justice Owen J Roberts, then a member of the United States Supreme Court, had visited St Paul’s for Evensong. 

On his return to the US, Justice Roberts formed a Committee to organise the tour. It was an enormous undertaking. The Choir was to travel by ship (The Queen Elizabeth) and spend eight weeks primarily in the USA taking in Washington DC, Philadelphia and Boston in the east, but also visiting Montreal and Ottawa in Canada before travelling to New Orleans via Chicago. A schedule of 41 concerts was planned. It would start in St John the Divine, New York and end two months later in Carnegie Hall, New York. There was even to be a concert in the White House.

The tour would involve the thirty boy Choristers, eighteen men, two organists and necessary support. It was to be led by Canon Collins.

Looking back, 60 years later, the organisational achievement was, and remains, astounding. The tour required travelling some 8,500 miles by bus and train, staying in numerous hotels for short periods with the associated logistical problems for dealing with laundry and moving music and equipment. These challenges were overcome and the tour proved a resounding success. Without doubt it enabled the Choir to achieve new heights of musical excellence.

Canon John Collins wrote: "Everywhere the Choir was received most enthusiastically. The Choir went to America with its gift of goodwill, it returned to Britain the bearer of this same gift enriched a thousand-fold from the American people."

Peter Chapman, a Chorister on the 1953 tour, was later to become the Cathedral's first Lay Canon. His book, A History of St Paul’s Cathedral and the American People, is available to buy from the Cathedral shop.