Victory Eights celebrate 75th anniversary with music and memories

BY AHLIA DUNN '20

Current members and alums of the Mount Holyoke a cappella group, the Victory Eights, gathered for a concert in Chapin Auditorium on Saturday to celebrate the group’s 75th anniversary. The V8s are the oldest historically all-female collegiate a cappella group in the nation. Saturday’s event reunited current members with members from the 80s, 90s and 2000s.

 Savita Diggs ’21, one of the V8’s new members, said, “I was a little wary [of] joining [the V8s]  since we rehearse seven hours a week, but I have loved it so much. [I] have become friends with such a fun and caring group of people. Turns out there are 75 years full of fun and caring people!”

The group was founded in October 1942 during the annual Junior Show as a one-off accompaniment to a dance performance. A 1944 Mount Holyoke News article described the original performance of the V8s as “the only evidence, so far as we know, of a former [Junior] Show success continuing as a new college tradition.” Initially made up of eight members, the group went on to entertain World War II servicemen at the Stage Door Canteen in New York City. 

In a 2002 letter to current V8 members, original member Joan Morris McNally ’44 said that the group’s choice of modern music had sparked controversy around the group. 

“Often the music director of the Glee Club and choirs of the time … looked in on us, but did not seem too happy with what we were doing,” said McNally. However, the group grew and after 75 years, remains true to their original style.

After 75 years, that strength and style is still apparent in every performance. Another Mount Holyoke News item from 1954 read that the V8s, “do not wish to be confused with tomato juice or Ford engines”--— a sentiment that speaks to the unique irreverence of the V8 spirit. 

The concert began at 7:30 p.m. and kicked off with introductions and a performance of the V8s’ signature tune “The Mount Holyoke Drinking Song.” The song, written in 1953 by Susan Long ’57 in a letter to her mother, is sung at every V8s performance. 

The group still prioritizes jazzier songs that are reminiscent of the group’s original song choices. Following the Drinking Song, Elyse Kiehn ’18 performed Etta James’ classic “At Last.” V8s classics were interspersed with songs from their current repertoire. After “At Last,” the group performed Laura Mvula’s “Green Garden” and The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly.”

Current members of the V8s sat down, while three groups of alums from the 80s, 90s and 2000s sang. 

The 80s alums memorially performed was “Saturday Night at Mount Holyoke College” (originally arranged by Caroline Foty ’80), which describes campus lyrically as, “like being nowhere at all.”

During their performances, alums reflected on howthey’ve seen the group change over the years. For instance, the V8s attire has changed many times throughout their history. The group’s slogan, “entertaining in Black & White since 1942” speaks to the original (and current) costume for performances. The alum group of the 80s, however, took the stage in their version of V8s garb — jewel tones — speaking to the time period in which they sang together. 

 “It was really fun to learn about the history of the V8s, particularly how our dress code has changed over the years, from ballgowns to kilts to ‘anything goes,’” Diggs said.

The 80s alums also spoke to the lack of vocal percussion, which became more prominent during the 90s. The tradition for initiating new members with a the sing-in song has also changed. After every audition season, current V8s will visit the new members’ dorms, singing to welcome them into the group. During the 90s, the sing-in song was Roy Turk’s “I Don’t Know Why (I Just Do).” For the last couple of years, however, the group has revived original sing-in song, “How High The Moon.” 

The origin story of the V8s mascot was also discovered during the anniversary weekend. The alums of the 2000s had a rendition of Minnesota band Bobby        Llama’s “Fourth of July,” which inspired the group to adopt the Llamas as their mascot.

Last Saturday was a sort of homecoming for many V8s. Lanae Erickson Hatalsky ’03, who has never felt part of her reunion class, said “I don’t come back to other reunions, the V8s are my home at Mount Holyoke.”

“It feels like graduation,” Stephanie Williams ’08 said of the evening. “[There’s] that same concept of bridging the old with the new and that tradition of just really strong and fabulous women.” 

Another big milestone of the night was the official release of the group’s new album “75,” which was on sale for attendees. The album, which has taken over two years to complete, features V8s classics and new arrangements. “75 years...is great and [coincides] with our latest CD [release] which we started working on when I was a junior and now it’s finally done,” said Chrislyn Laurore ’16.

“We love you as much as we love each other,” said Toni Halleen ’84, “even though you could be our daughters, we think of you as sisters.” 

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