Two Penn Singing Groups Perform at the White House

Two singing groups from the University of Pennsylvania earned coveted slots to sing at the White House for the president and first lady this month. The Penn Glee Club performed on Dec. 10 and the Shabbatones on Dec. 17.

It was the Glee Club’s, first White House gig since 1926 when Calvin Coolidge was president.

The process began in July when Sehun Justin Kim, a senior economics major concentrating in finance in the Wharton School and the business manager for the Club, applied for an invitation for the group to sing as part of the Holiday Talent Program.  “Project 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” as the group nicknamed it, was launched.

On Dec. 10, the Club sang for about 700 guests, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, comedian Keegan-Michael Key and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader..

The highlight, however, came as a surprise, when the singers were asked to perform a brief set for President Obama and the first lady in the Diplomatic Reception Room. 

"Admittedly there were some nerves as we waited to meet the president and first lady. Having a chance to represent the entire University and our Glee Club at the White House was truly an honor,” says Jacob Meiner, vice president of the Club from New Rochelle, N.Y., and a double major in Near Eastern languages and civilizations and marketing and operations management.

Charlie McClelland, Club president and a senior cultural and linguistic anthropology major from Philadelphia, says, “The president greeted us saying ‘I hear you performed at the White House in 1926. You guys still look pretty good!'”

"This was the first time in my tenure with the Club that we have enjoyed the honor of a private performance and personal meeting with the president and first lady,” says C. Erik Nordgren, director.

Also representing Penn at the White House were the Shabbatones. The Jewish a cappella group.performed for President and Mrs. Obama Dec. 17 at the White House annual Chanukah party after being selected in a talent search. 

"The performance at The White House was amazing,” says group president Sarah Beckoff, a junior from West Orange, N.J., majoring in management and statistics. “We learned new Chanukah music, including ‘Maoz Tzur,’ ‘Haneirot Hallalu’ and ‘Sivivon Sov Sov Sov,’ for the performance.”

The president and first lady “were very sweet and asked us how our finals were going. After we posed for a picture together, we then sang a prayer for peace that has been sung by the group for the 13 years it's existed.”

"Getting to celebrate the second night of Chanukah with my Shabbatones family at the White House is an experience that I'll never forget,” says Sophie Beren, a sophomore communications major from Wichita, Kan.

Photos of the Penn Glee Club in Washington are here.

A video of the Shabbatones performing at the White House is here.


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