The American Choral Directors Association was founded in 1959 to serve the needs of choral conductors working in professional organizations, schools, communities, and places of worship. Following two years of correspondence initiated by Robert Landers (US Air Force), Archie Jones (University of Texas) and Maynard Klein (University of Michigan), the first meeting was held on February 4, 1959 in Kansas City, Missouri during a meeting of the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA). At this meeting, 35 founding members passed the original constitution and bylaws and set the yearly dues at $6.00.
The fledgling organization was originally conceived as the American Choirmasters Association (to parallel the American Bandmasters Association), and was designed to accept members based only upon recommendation. At the first organizational meeting, however, the organization was renamed the American Choral Directors Association and membership was opened to anyone interested in choral music. Eventually, eighty-one officially designated charter members launched what was to become one of the world’s most significant influences in choral music.
The first ACDA Executive Board was comprised of Landers and Jones, as well as Charles Hirt (University of Southern Cal.), Harry Robert Wilson (Teachers College, Columbia University), Warner Imig (University of Colorado), Elwood Keister (University of Florida), R. Wayne Hugoboom (Marshall College and University of Southern Florida), and James Aliferis (University of Minnesota). Because of failing health, Maynard Klein did not participate in organizing the final committee.
ACDA’s first president, Archie Jones, oversaw the publication of the first “Choral Journal” in May, 1959 and planned the first national conference, held March 16-17, 1960 at the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This conference, in conjunction with the national conference of the Music Educators National Conference (MENC), consisted of concerts, demonstrations, panel discussions, Reading Sessions and two general business sessions. The conference was extremely successful and established momentum for the organization’s early growth.
From the outset, ACDA worked to include both men and women in its leadership as well as choral directors representing all choral activity. Elaine Brown (Temple Univ. and Singing City) and Helen Hosmer (Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam) took an active part in shaping the young organization. Curtis Hansen and Mary Ruth Palmer, both national officers, were high school choral directors.
In 1964, R. Wayne Hugoboom, who had served as the first editor of the “Choral Journal” retired from Marshall College and began serving as ACDA’s first Executive Secretary, working first out of his home and then from ACDA’s first office in a tiny two-bedroom house in Tampa, FL.
ACDA’s Executive Board announced a decision in 1969 to hold national and regional conferences independently of MENC. The first independent conference of ACDA was held in 1971 at the Muehlebach Hotel, Kansas City, MO. The decade of the 1970’s heralded the largest expansion of the ACDA membership. In 1970, membership totaled 3,165 and by 1980 the number of members had increased to 10,600. This growth brought a change of Executive Secretary, with Gene Brooks’ appointment in 1976 and a move of the headquarters from Tampa to Lawton, Oklahoma. The headquarters were moved to the present location in Oklahoma City in 2003.
During the presidency of Colleen Kirk (Florida State University), the current Repertoire & Standards structure was created and added to the national, regional, and state boards (1983). She was also the first president to insist that our national conference performance ensembles required more conducive acoustical environments than hotel ballrooms. The national conference that she chaired (1981) was the first to use a performance hall (New Orleans Theatre of the Performing Arts), and also the first to contain a major work for choir and orchestra – a performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with the Atlanta Symphony and five collegiate choirs conducted by Robert Shaw.
The regional structure of the ACDA dates back to the first meeting in 1959, but it was not implemented until 1961. At that time, the founding members separated the country into six regions, each electing a “state chairman” or president. A seventh region was added in 1979 to accommodate the ever-expanding membership. Choral composer and arranger Harry Robert Wilson (Teachers College, Columbia University) served as the first president of the Eastern Region. Our first region conference was held in 1961 (in conjunction with MENC). The first independently organized region conference (Southern Region) was held in 1970.
The rich history of the American Choral Directors Association and the Eastern Region is still being written. Today, the national organization boasts a membership of over 18,000, and approximately 4,000 of those are members of the Eastern Region.