A group of students stand in front of an audience and sings.

The Wellesley Widows celebrate 75 years of singing

Image credit: Joel Haskell

Author  Aidan Reid ’24
Published on 

The Wellesley College Widows a cappella group celebrated its 75th anniversary March 10 with a performance at Tishman Commons, joined by over 70 alums and dozens more who attended virtually. The current Widows sang some songs that will be a part of their spring performance April 27, and the alums sang with the current Widows and on their own. The weekend also included events that let Widows connect across generations as well as catch up with old friends.

At the performance, alumnae songs included “Just Like Heaven,” “Under the Boardwalk,” and “Sh-Boom.” And Widows of all ages came together to sing Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” which the group performs at every concert and always invites any alums in attendance to join.

Wen Li Yau ’24, co-music director and social chair of the Widows, arranges the group’s songs and conducts rehearsals. She was inspired to audition for the group after seeing a video on social media of them performing her sophomore year at Wellesley. “It was only a 10-second clip, but they sounded so good,” she said. “And I thought ‘I really want to join.’”

Yau was excited to meet all of the alums and hear about different traditions of the Widows in years past. She learned that the group has performed at the White House twice in its history, as well as in Jamaica and at Disneyland.

The anniversary resurfaced a years-long argument as to whether the Widows are the oldest a cappella group at Wellesley. Both the Tupelos and the Widows claim this title, although recent documentation has shown that it in fact belongs to the Widows.

  • Four women dressed in black stand and sing for an audience.
    Over 70 alums joined current members of the Wellesley Widows to sing and celebrate the group’s anniversary. Dozens more attended virtually.
  • Audience members laugh during the Wellesley Widows concert.
    Tishman was packed with alums and guests.

For the alums in attendance, the reunion brought back many wonderful memories. “I learned so much in my classes at Wellesley, but the Widows is where I learned the most about myself,” said Maureen Higgins ’06, an organizer of the event. “We didn’t only sing together—we composed music, produced events, ran marketing campaigns, fundraised, self-governed, and built community. We leaned on each other’s strengths and learned how to be resourceful, to collaborate, and to lead.”

Higgins said singing with the Widows again was a highlight of the reunion. “I was amazed at how organically Widows across six decades came together in song,” she said. “It was like we’d been singing together for years! So many alums stepped up to organize, musically direct, perform solos and percussion, prepare intros, and help each other learn parts. It was a blast, and a true embodiment of how the Widows, and Wellesley women and alums, get stuff done!”

Carolin Sagawa ’87 said the Widows was one of the best parts of her time at Wellesley. “Being in the Widows really defined my college experience, and I made lifelong friendships, especially Joanna Drell ‘87, who is to this day my best friend,” she said. “Not only did I get to sing, but I also got to do a little comedy writing of intros and do vocal arrangements. But I think my favorite time was my senior year. We did a California tour, filled Alumnae Hall (1,500 seats!) in our final concert, and recorded an album. It’s something I look back on with pride.”

At the reunion, Sagawa particularly loved getting to know other Widows. “One of the most special aspects of the weekend was hearing all the stories from the original and earlier Widows,” she said. “I also have to applaud the current Widows. I was so impressed with their musicality and arrangements. They are incredibly talented women.”

Tishman was packed with alums and guests, many of whom teared up throughout the concert, particularly during “American Tune.” Yau’s favorite songs from the night were “Oscar Winning Tears” and “Alexandra,” which the Widows will perform at their spring concert as well. Sana Khan ’25, who attended the concert, said seeing alums from different class years sing together was “incredibly moving.”

“There was so much love in the air that day, and they sounded so beautiful together,” she said. “I shed a tear during the alum song; it was really emotional, and you could tell during the performance that it was a meaningful moment for all of them.

In the foreground are balloons that spell 75, while a student sings in the backgroun.