Happy Founders’ Day, Zeta Beta Tau – “Strike the Band Up, Pull the Stops Out, Hallelujah! It’s Today!”

Zeta Beta Tau was created on December 29, 1898 when a group of young men attending several New York universities met at the Jewish Theological Seminary and formed an organization called Z.B.T. (yes, with the periods between the letters). The organization was inspired by Richard J. H. Gottheil, a Columbia University professor of languages. For a few years the organization served as an organization for the Jewish students who were excluded from the other Greek-letter organizations in existence on the campuses where they were studying. In 1903, the organization became Zeta Beta Tau. Six years later, there were 14 chapters established, all but one in the Northeast. The first chapter outside the Northeast was at Tulane University. In 1913, the fraternity became international with the establishment of a chapter at McGill University.

Although Zeta Beta Tau began as a Jewish fraternity, in 1954, sectarianism was eliminated as a membership qualification. Five other national Jewish fraternities became a part of Zeta Beta Tau. Phi Alpha merged into Phi Sigma Delta in 1959. Two years later, Kappa Nu merged into Phi Epsilon Pi. Phi Sigma Delta and Phi Epsilon Pi merged into Zeta Beta Tau in 1969-70.

In 1967, Jerome Lawrence and Jerry Herman were each awarded a Zeta Beta Tau Man of Distinction Award. Lawrence joined ZBT at The Ohio State University and Herman was initiated into the University of Miami chapter. A year earlier, the Broadway musical Mame opened on Broadway. Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee wrote the book and Herman wrote the music and lyrics. Mame was based on Auntie Mame, the 1955 novel by Patrick Dennis. Lawrence and Lee first wrote the play which was originally titled My Best Girl. It opened in 1956 starring Rosalind Russell. She also starred in the 1958 film, Auntie Mame, which was based on the play. It became a musical with the addition of Herman’s wonderful songs, most of which I can recite from memory. The lyrics in the title of this post are from It’s Today. I really wish I could have found a way to make the lyrics to Bosom Buddies (Just turn your bosom buddy, For aid and affection, For help and direction, For loyalty, love and forsooth!) fit into the title.

After Herman pledged Zeta Beta Tau, he moved into the fraternity dormitory and shared a suite with three other members. Their suite had a piano and Herman played all the popular songs and Broadway show tunes. He was a natural to write and produce the fraternity’s entry in the annual musical competition. Potpourri, for he had spent summers doing the same thing at summer camp his parents ran in upstate New York. His first effort for the 1951 Potpourri was about a college on Saturn.  The Zeta Beta Taus won handily. And they won easily again the following year. In 1953, there were not enough entrants in the Potpourri competition because no one wanted to compete against the ZBTs. Herman suggested they do a musical revue instead, so that all interested students could take part. It was called Sketchbook. The 1953 Sketchbook was a Jerry Herman production, with 19 of his original songs. Because there were nearly 100 students in the cast, and more working behind the scenes, the venue was changed from the small Ring Theatre on campus to the Dade County Auditorium. In 1974, the University of Miami built a new theater and named it the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre. 


© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

This entry was posted in Founders' Day, Fran Favorite, Zeta Beta Tau and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.