Profile is a series of brief biographies on noted Pennsylvanians.

In her 1997 book, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, Virginia Waring declared her late husband “The Man Who Taught America How to Sing.” In his foreword to the book, Robert Shaw (1916-1999), world-famous choral conductor known for his classical and secular repertoire, wrote, “It is certain to me that tours of the Bach B Minor Mass and the Mozart Requiem would not have been possible had not Fred Waring stimulated and helped to create an audience for choral music.”

Frederic Malcolm Waring, one of five children, was born June 9, 1900, in the small Blair County borough of Tyrone, fifteen miles north of Altoona. Despite Tyrone’s gritty image, with its busy railroad center and malodorous paper mill, interest in music was widespread. One influence was the local Pennsylvania Railroad band, composed of rail­road employees who were accomplished musicians.

The Waring family’s twenty-seven­-room home attracted local talent for weekly recitals and curious listeners of Edison’s cylindrical phonograph. Both parents were vocally talented, Frank Waring in church and Jesse Calderwood Waring accompanying on piano. Music deeply impressed young Fred, and he began tak­ing violin lessons at the age of nine.

At thirteen, Waring quit the high school orchestra, unable to tolerate out-of­-tune musicians. His father, a school board member, was embarrassed and ordered his son to either rejoin the orchestra or give up the violin. Waring never again touched the instrument. Instead, he discovered the school’s glee club and became its most enthusiastic promoter.

Fred’s younger brother Tom (1902-1960), a piano player, and Fred’s lifelong friend, J. Roland “Poley” McClintock (1900-1979), on drums, began playing at their local dance class for fifty cents each per class. Fred Waring and friend Freddy Buck (1900-1934) soon joined, adding ukuleles to the quartet. When the Guy Hall Band, an African American jazz band from Colum­bus, Ohio, visited Tyrone, Hall’s banjo and vocal sounds inspired Waring to combine banjos, a jazz orchestra, and glee club­-style vocals. They christened themselves Banjazztra.

Banjazztra evolved further after an accident of nature. The quartet was booked for a dance party at Lakemont Park in Altoona. A thunderstorm struck and the pavilion roof leaked. The rain-soaked drumheads broke and the wet banjos could not produce a sound. The group improvised by singing every number, but to their surprise, the crowd loved it. Waring regarded that evening – Sunday, July 1, 1917 – as the start of his career.

Waring dreamed of attending Pennsyl­vania State College, today the Pennsylva­nia State University (PSU), and joining the college glee club, but his father believed that Waring should earn his own tuition. Earning ten dollars a week, he often worked from five o’clock in the morning until nine at night, driving a bakery delivery truck and, in the winter, collecting milk from farmers. When Waring requested a raise, citing a “one-thousand percent increase in business,” the owner replied, “Who asked you to increase business?” Waring found better paying work at a new acetone plant, but he still needed two hundred dollars for college. His father, a banker, again refused to loan him the money. Waring went to the only other bank in town, an acrimonious competitor of his father, where he found a willing lender. In 1918, Fred Waring entered PSU’s class of 1922, majoring in engineering.

Waring was not welcomed by Penn State’s glee club, a rejection that left a bitter memory. He suspected that upper­classmen were jealous of his popular Banjaz­ztra and were not about to embrace a lowly freshman upstart. Nonetheless, Waring later became a trustee and distinguished alumnus. Penn State’s Pattee Library was selected to house the massive “Fred Waring’s Ameri­ca” collection, containing thousands of titles, including songs composed by Fred and Tom Waring, song sheets, ten thousand music and broadcast recordings, and hundreds of original cartoons given to Waring by cartoonists he befriended.

In the early twentieth century, critics generally held a low opinion of jazz music. Ignoring critics, Waring modeled his ten-member band after Paul White­man (1890-1967), then crowned “The King of Jazz.” The combination of jazz and the college glee club sound won the critics over.

In 1922, the newly named Waring’s Pennsylvanians was booked at a Universi­ty of Michigan “J-Hop.” Waring had to borrow money from his mother for the train to Ann Arbor. At the engagement, two other big bands were playing in an adjacent gymnasium and, in the begin­ning only six couples were dancing to Waring’s band. The word soon spread about Waring’s unique “zing-zing” dance rhythm and the crowd grew to as many as ten thousand! The band earned two hundred dollars – but not enough to get them home. Waring had an idea. He called on Fred Holliday, a Detroit radio station manager and, coincidentally, a native of Tyrone. Holli­day booked the Pennsylvanians into the Kunsky The­atres and the band did not return home for six months.

Waring and his musicians compiled an incredible musical career. From 1923 to 1932, they recorded more than two hundred titles for the Victor Machine Company. In 1928, they performed in Paris in a George Gershwin cabaret revue and debuted on Broadway in Hello Yourself. Waring’s first movie deal was the 1929 musical film Syncopation.

Fred Waring was widely popular on network radio broadcasts from the early thirties to the late forties. Between 1933 and 1942, He stopped recording because radio stations were playing his music without paying royalties. He joined several lawsuits to establish rights for performers. For five years, beginning in 1949, he produced weekly live variety shows for television. Although a musical leader, his wholesome image and down-to­-earth, soft-spoken manner attracted many fans.

A leading music educator, his system of “Tone Syllables” was incorporated into his workshops across the country. Between 1947 and 1980, many young vocalists attended the Fred Waring Choral Workshop in Delaware Water Gap, Monroe County, and from 1981 to 1984 in State College. Over the years, glee club competitions, workshops, golf tournaments, and appearances helped sustain War­ing’s popularity.

In 1939, Waring founded Words and Music, Inc., in New York, and in 1947, moved the publishing company, renamed the Shawnee Press, to Shawnee-on-Delaware in Monroe County. Today, it’s the world’s largest publisher of choral and instrumental music.

Waring kept working after a stroke in 1980, and made his final appearance the following year during the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan. In 1983, Waring was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest honor for a civilian, for his achievements as a composer, musical director, and educator. He died on July 29, 1984, in State College, just after completing his annual workshop. In addition to being a musical genius, Waring was also an entrepreneur. He helped develop the blender that bears his name and also invented an instant steam iron.