'Singing Sergeants' Reunited Through Song And Community

Jul 6, 2017

The retired Singing Sergeants after their reunion performance.
Credit Weston Lee Allen

Recently a retiree Air Force choir gathered together to share music at Utah State University. The reunion focused on American music to remember and share experiences they had as the Singing Sergeants

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Before becoming director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Dr. Craig Jessop was asked to audition to become director of the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants.

 

“I had never heard of them. I said, 'The singing what?'" Jessop said. "I thought these are probably guys who fix airplanes during the day and get together with a couple of beers and sing at night. But no, I was assured this was a full-time professional choir.”

 

It wasn't the beginning of Jessop’s career in the military. After receiving a draft number of 32 as a student at Utah State University during the Vietnam War, Jessop joined the ROTC so he could serve his country and complete his education. He was commissioned to the Air Force as an admin officer.

 

“I had no objection at all to serving my country but I very much wanted to finish my degree so one way I could do both was enroll in ROTC," he said.

 

Five years later while completing his doctorate degree in California, Jessop received a call from a fellow USU Aggie and Cache Valley native, Deputy Commander Michael Bankhead. He invited Jessop to audition and become director of the Singing Sergeants.   

 

"That one phone call changed my life," Jessop said.

 

For the next seven and a half years he would direct the 14-men and 14-women group. They have performed in all 50 U.S. states and travel to 28 different countries.

 

“That’s where I started working with guest artists like Walter Cronkite, Roberta Peters, Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird, Mr. Rogers, Victor Borga," he said. "It was a fabulous experience with some of the finest musicians I’ve ever known or worked with.”

 

Jessop and Bankhead would continue their working relationship at Utah State University, Bankhead serving as the Caine College of the Arts Music Department Head and Jessop as dean of the college. Together, they decided it was time to gather the Sergeants for a reunion performance and that it should happen in their community, Cache Valley.

 

“This is not the current group and our oldest member is in his 80s," Jessop said.

 

“It was the highlight of my life, really. I mean, I came out of college and ended up with the most fabulous job," Eileen Snow said. "I mean, we sang for a living and traveled all over the nation and just shared America through song. And I loved it.”

 

The community concert included patriotic numbers and American music similar to their CD American Pride. As well as bringing together life-long friends.

 

“These people are some of my closest friends and colleges over many years, over 30 years, and to have them hear at Utah State and to make music together was really a great highlight for me,” said Jessop.