It was October 1981. Eight girls, all UNC undergraduates, got together to sing at a Morehead banquet. They called themselves the Loreleis, after their favorite song, and they sang that song along with "Sentimental Journey" and other ballads.
The audience loved their a cappella vocal harmonies; a thank-you note described them as "eight women who could sound like 50."
Twenty Octobers, four award-winning recordings and countless roster changes later, the Loreleis are still delighting audiences on the UNC campus. They celebrate this milestone with the 20th Anniversary Fall Jam at 8 p.m. Saturday in Memorial Hall.
This year's Loreleis roster has 16 members, and the ballad mainstays have been replaced with a variety of popular music, including Alicia Keys, Janis Joplin and Tina Turner.
Many songs from the past will be performed, and like that first performance 20 years ago, "The Lorelei" will be the featured finale.
Memorial Hall, the location for Saturday's festivities, represents a step up for the Loreleis, who have been confined to smaller spaces due to money concerns. Current members are looking forward to performing there.
"We are beyond excited," said Rebecca Andrews, the group's president. "We've been pushing the limits of the smaller venues."
Singing in the Pit, on local radio station G-105 FM and in residence halls has all been part of this week's efforts to publicize the anniversary concert.
Like their male counterparts, the Clef Hangers, the Loreleis recently entered into a partnership with the General Alumni Association.
"The GAA helps a lot with publicity," said Loreleis Publicity Chairwoman Whitney Henry. "We have a lot more campus support than we've had in the past, and that will only get better."
The GAA is also coordinating reunion efforts for this weekend, bringing back many former members, Loralums, for the show. A Sunday brunch for the Loralums completes the weekend, something Jennifer Sinclair, a member of the group from 1996-99, anticipates.
"We'll sing old songs, reminisce and be a cappella dorks," she said.
But none of the weekend's events would have occurred without a well-timed letter in 1984. Two years after its founding, the group was defunct, but graduate and original member Sarah Klemmer didn't want to see it end permanently. She remembered Rah Bickley, a girl who had tried out for the group in 1982, and decided to contact her.
"Sarah wrote me a letter and said `I want you to revive this group,'" Bickley recalls.
Bickley held auditions after seeking advice from a Princeton a cappella group, and the Loreleis were back.
The group's focus gradually began to shift. The members stopped singing the "traditional and conservative" songs of years past and instead began singing their own arrangements of popular music, complete with percussion. This new plan proved to be successful.
In 1996 the Loreleis were the only all-female group to enter the first National College A Cappella Competition at New York's Lincoln Center. They took home first place to the pride of current and former members alike.
"That was a hell of a coup, beating the Ivy Leagues at their own game," Bickley said. A performance of En Vogue's "Hold On (To Your Love)" on "Good Morning America" followed the win. Since then, the group continues to compete, perform on television and tour.
From Morehead banquet thank-you notes to national television, the Loreleis' history portrays a stark contrast. Today's black-clad pop music songstresses are a far cry from the humble ballad-crooning beginnings. And it seems the traditional song that inspired the group's name is the only common thread.
But members both past and present seem to agree on the group's value to their lives. "There's nothing more wonderful than getting together with other people who love to sing," Bickley said.
Henry echoed these sentiments.
"It's a phenomenal experience," she said. "I wouldn't have spent my time at UNC any other way."
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