WATERVILLE - Bump Bean still chuckles when he remembers how the Colby Eight got its name. For a group that had spent so much time perfecting its harmonies, it is ironic that they spent so little time preparing a name.
It was the singers' first performance, at Colby College's 1947 homecoming no less. As the group prepared to go on stage, the singers were being pressed to come up with a name so they could be introduced. When nothing clever came to mind, they settled for the obvious.
"There were nine of us, but the first concert we only had eight on stage,"Bean recalled. "We just said, 'Call us the Colby Eight.' It stuck for 60 years."
The Colby Eight has nearly always been a misnomer, since typically there are between 8 and 12 men in the a cappella group, but one thing has stayed the same for six decades: Singing in the Eight is a highlight of the Colby experience.
"Over the years, I don't think anyone would argue with the fact they had a very enjoyable experience through the Colby Eight," Bean said.
"It's been very much a defining point of my Colby experience," said senior Jack Davidson, music director for the current group of Colby Eight.
Much of that experience will be showcased during tonight's Colby Eight 60th Anniversary Concert, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Lorimer Chapel. Nearly 60 Colby Eight alumni are expected to return to campus, dust off their old song sheets and belt out their harmonies.
After a few opening numbers by the current Colby Eight, the alumni will split up into decades of graduation to sing the songs popular at the time of their heyday. In one evening, concertgoers will hear everything from the spirituals and barber shop numbers that marked the original Colby Eight to more modern songs like Aerosmith's "Cryin'."
All of the current and former Eight members will gather on stage at the end to perform Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo," which every version of the Colby Eight has sung since 1947.
"It's a special and important weekend for anybody's who has ever been in the Colby Eight," said senior Ed Davis, who is helping coordinate the weekend. "To get the opportunity to meet the people that helped create this group, to meet the people that shared this passion, it's an incredible opportunity."
And one that would have been unimaginable to the original Colby Eight. The group grew out of students Ed Waller and Dick Leonard's desire to form a singing group separate from the Glee Club.
"They just enjoyed singing and performing," Bean said.
The original nine were selected, as they are today, by tryout. Bean was one of seven men - the Colbyettes, Colby's women's a cappella group, was formed in 1951 - chosen for the original nine, who came with varied and sometimes little musical background.
"Those that had the right personality and right vocal talents were asked to join," Bean said.
The group's first performance, at homecoming, was delayed a couple weeks when many of the college's men were recruited to fight the massive forest fires of 1947. The Colby Eight would eventually travel around the state, and have since performed around the Northeast.
At the time none of the Colby Eight would have guessed the group would last so long, Bean said.
"Every year new guys would come along and want to enjoy the same kind of things we enjoyed," he said. "We had no clue this would last 60 years."
The old rush returned to Bean 10 years ago when Bean and other Eight alumni returned to sing before a packed house for the 50th anniversary concert.
Bean is looking forward to the same thing on Saturday. "We got one standing ovation after another," Bean recalled. "It's an
understatement for me to say I'm looking forward to it."
Craig Crosby is a staff writer for the Waterville Morning Sentinel where this story first appeared. It appears here by permission.