Posted by: Date: March 11, 2014 In: ,

Musical Memories


Choir of the West members prepare to board the bus at Pacific Lutheran College in 1939 for a 3,000-mile tour. (Photo courtesy of Lorna Vosburg Burt)

Choir of the West member recalls bus trip to the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco

Editor’s Note: When Lorna Vosburg Burt ’40, ’69 read our story on PLU’s annual Christmas Concerts in the winter 2013 edition of Scene magazine, she was inspired to recall—and share—her own Choir of the West story … from 1939. It was so full of history and facts and fun, we wanted to share it with everyone. Writes Lorna: “Now at 93 years old, this trip remains very vivid in my memory!”

By Lorna Vosburg Burt ’40, ’69

“Whee…eee!,” I read in my diary. “We are off on the trip of a lifetime!”

I was just 19 years old, a student at Pacific Lutheran College and a member of the famous Choir of the West, which was leaving on a 3,000-mile tour of the Pacific Coast, including daily concerts at the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco.

We were honored to represent the state of Washington in a Golden Jubilee Celebration at the Fair. (Washington was admitted to the Union Nov. 11, 1889, and we were celebrating 50 years of statehood.)

It was June 7, 1939, and a crowd had gathered in front of PLC, including a news reporter and photographer, to wish us well on our important mission. Dr. O.A. Tingelstad, president of PLC, shook hands with the choir director, Gunnar Malmin. The fully loaded bus, plus two full cars, headed south, carrying the 43-voice Choir, and its director and chaperones.

In 1939 there were no freeways. We wound through every small town along the way at 35 mph. There were no cellphones or iPads either, of course, so to pass the time we read, talked, played trivia games and sang the popular songs of the day in eight-part harmony. It was a pleasant ride to Portland, our first stop. On arrival, we went directly to radio station KALE, where we put on a 25-minute program.


That night we gave our first church concert of the tour at Bethlehem Lutheran church—“our best ever,” said Malmin.

The next morning we were back on the bus, and excitement rose as we neared the Golden Gate Bridge, which had been open only two years at the time. Crossing over into San Francisco, the choir burst into song: San Francisco, open your Golden Gate.

Our first morning there, we took the 20-minute ferry ride to Treasure Island, which was totally dedicated to the World’s Fair. We could see the “Tower of the Sun” bidding us welcome.

We were instructed to go immediately to the broadcasting studio, where the choir would present a nationwide concert, one of several airing coast-to-coast on the radio. (No television in those days!) The announcers emphasized that listeners would hear “the famous Choir of the West”!

After broadcasting, we made our way to the impressive Washington Building, representing the history, arts and activities of our state. A sign in front announced the times of our two daily performances, and inside choir members donned heavy, gold satin robes. Standing beneath a wall-sized picture of Mount Rainier, we sang to a filled concert hall, beginning with Hail to Our Washington and ending with Beautiful Savior.