They have harmonized in Waikiki’s Hano Hano Room and sung in numerous tiled bathrooms. But the Mendicants—Stanford’s first a cappella group—prize one venue above all others.
“Stairwells are so great,” says Michael LaHood. “Sometimes we’ll hit a random stairwell and just start singing. People stop by to listen, and we love it when they do, but we’re really singing for ourselves.”
LaHood, ’99, and Garth Patil, ’98, were Mendicants together in the 1995-96 academic year. At Reunion Homecoming in October, they were reunited onstage for a 40th-anniversary show, joining tops, leads, baritones and basses of years past and present in the Stanford Hymn and “Delia,” a signature Mendicant tune.
It was the group’s first anniversary concert since the 2001 death of Hank Adams, ’64, a Yale transfer student who had sung with that school’s storied Whiffenpoofs. He brought west an art form that has taken root: the Mendicants were joined this fall on stage by seven other Stanford a cappella groups: Fleet Street, Everyday People, Mixed Company, Talisman, the Harmonics, Counterpoint and Testimony.
“The Stanford Mendicants were founded in 1963 with the express purpose of serenading and subsequently wooing Stanford women,” LaHood says, reciting the group’s album-cover credo from memory. The men do this wooing in white baseball jerseys with blue trim—an improvement, Patil says, over a previous version that appeared to read “Merdicarts.” The correctly spelled name supposedly is not the plain old English word, but bastardized from a Latin expression that might be translated “men of song,” or could conceivably mean “begging for love.”
The story goes that when Adams assembled the first group of Mendicants, he taught them two songs. One fine day, the men burst into the dining hall of Branner, then an all-women’s dorm, and commenced to sing. “Hank used to say that ‘the women wept and there was not a dry eye in the house,’” says Patil. “They applauded and begged for more, but the Mendicants had to run away because they only had two songs.”
The group has increased its repertoire in the intervening years, recording more than 20 albums and compiling a 2,500-page book of arrangements of barbershop scores, songs of love and 1950s doo-wop. And serenades are still available: $30 buys a rose and—of course—two songs.
CORRECTION: This article conflated two concerts. The Mendicants appeared with seven other Stanford a cappella groups at Reunion Homecoming on October 18. Their 40th-anniversary concert was one week later.