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The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (Song)
Written in 1911 by two undergraduates at Albion College in Michigan, "The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi" has become the most popular college fraternity song in history. The site of the writing of the song was Dickie Hall on the campus of Albion. Byron D. Stokes, Albion 1913, wrote the words one June day while in class. He took the words to his Sigma Chi Brother F. Dudleigh "Dud" Vernor, who was practicing the organ in the campus chapel; Vernor completed the music that day. It was written for the 25th Anniversary Reunion in June 1911 of Alpha Pi Chapter. It was first sung by Harry H. Clifford, Albion 1911, who designed the drawing on the original sheet music, published by Richard Vernor, Albion 1913, brother of Dud Vernor.
Stokes was asked by many people "Who is the girl who was the inspiration?" He answered it was no one in particular. "The `Sweetheart' is the symbol for the spiritual ingredient in brotherhood. It was the Sigma Chi Fraternity itself that inspired the song. I wrote the words not long after my initiation, and the magic of our Ritual with its poetic overtones and undertones was, I suppose, the source of my inspiration."
Stokes later served Sigma Chi during the years 1916-1920 as Executive Secretary, Grand Editor, and Grand Historian, and retired in Pasadena, California. Vernor was organist for the Metropolitan Methodist Church in Detroit for over 50 years. Ironically, although the two collaborated on this classic song while undergraduates, they never saw each other after college: "Our paths simply have never crossed," Vernor said in 1955. However, the two collaborated on at least two other Sigma Chi songs: "The Fellowship Song" and "I'm Glad I'm a Sigma Chi"; the latter was dedicated to Sigma Chi Brothers who fought in World War I. (Both songs are included with other Sigma Chi songs at this site.) Both died in 1974, Vernor at the age of 81 and Stokes at the age of 87. (See also The Centennial History of Sigma Chi: 1855-1955 by Robert M. Collett, pp. 279-281, and History of the Sigma Chi Fraternity by Douglas Richard Carlson, pp. 368-370.)
Just about every Sigma Chi knows the first verse and the chorus of "The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi," but how many of you know the second verse!
Although "The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi" was popular when it was written and in the years following, the more popular recorded versions of the song were in late 1927 and early 1928. The most popular version was by Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians, a "glee club" type of group which was extremely popular in the 1920's and 1930's (with hits such as "Sleep" (1923), "Memory Lane" (1924), "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" (1928), "Little White Lies" (1930) and "I Found a Million-Dollar Baby in a Five-and-Ten-Cent Store" (1931)). In November of 1927, the Sweetheart Song entered the "Top Ten," rising to #3 in December; it stayed in the top ten for seven weeks.
Almost as popular as Waring's recording was one by Gene Austin, the most popular singer between 1925-1930. Austin was born in Gainesville, Texas, in 1900 and began his entertainment career in vaudeville. When he gained nationwide popularity in 1925, he was known as "The Voice of the Southland." His recording of "My Blue Heaven," the biggest-selling, non-holiday song before rock and roll, was popular at the same time as his version of "The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi."
There have been two movies called The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi. The first was made in 1933, and starred Buster Crabbe and Burr McIntosh, both Sigma Chi and Signficant Sigs, and included some other Sigs in supporting roles. The song is sung in the movie several times by Ted FioRito, a popular bandleader of the 1930's. The movie's plot is pretty corny, but it's nice seeing Sigma Chi stuff in various scenes.
In 1946, another movie musical The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi was released. It starred Elyse Knox, the Sweetheart of Alpha Epsilon Chapter. Although the song was sung in the film by Phil Brito and played in the background, another song from the film became a number one hit for Frank Sinatra: "Five Minutes More." The film was shown to delegates at the 60th Grand Chapter in St. Louis in 1975.