Edited by Azizi Powell
Latest Revision: July 1, 2017
This is Part I of a two part pancocojams series on historically Black Greek letter organizations (BGLO) calls.
This post provides information and comments about BGLO signature calls and a list of the signature calls for the nine historically Black Greek letter organizations that are informally referred to as "The Divine Nine".
This post also provides excerpts of two Greekchat.com discussions about historically Black Greek letter fraternities and sorority calls and hand signs.
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/09/seven-videos-of-black-greek-fraternity.html for Part II of this series. Part II showcases seven YouTube videos of Black Greek Roll Calls.
The content of this post is provided for folkloric, cultural, and aesthetic purposes.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
PANCOCOJAMS EDITORIAL COMMENT
[Added June 30, 2017]
I recognize that providing information about Black Greek lettered fraternity/sorority calls is very much frowned upon by most members of those organizations. While I agree with the position that the history & meaning of these calls doesn't need to be shared with persons who aren't affiliated with those specific organizations, I believe that the horse has already left the barn regarding sharing written and audio examples of the specific calls with the general public. I say this because those calls are routinely performed in public at Greek step shows, Greek strolls, and other Greek events, and those calls and chants are also showcased on YouTube videos and on other online websites.
As a community folklorist who is primarily interested in African American folk cultures, I believe it's my responsibility to document & disseminate as much cultural information as possible about BGLO fraternites and sororities, without violating the privacy of those organizations. For that reason I'm including lengthy excerpts about the subject of fraternity and sorority calls (and hand shakes) from two Greekchat.com discussion threads. And, also for that reason, I'm providing definitions of and a list of "Divine Nine" calls ("Divine Nine" are nine historically Black fraternities and sororities that are members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). Click https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Pan-Hellenic_Council for information about the National Pan-Hellenic council and a list of that Council's member organizations that are informally referred to as the "Divine Nine".
Note: When this post was first published I declined to list these calls. However, on June 30, 2017 as part of my research on a prospective pancocojams posts (on Stomp & Shake cheerleader yelps and historically Black Grreek letter sororities calls)*, I re-read this article and was dissatisfied with it.
Here's the link to that pancocojams post: https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2017/07/are-black-fraternity-sorority-calls.html Are Black Fraternity & Sorority Calls And Stomp & Shake Cheerleading Yelps Remnants Of Plantation Field Hollers And/Or African Ululation?
It seems to me that people (including me) aren't as intent on finding out why a particular Greek letter organization made up or chose a particular call as we are in finding out why Black Greek letter organizations have that custom, what the purpose or purposes of the calls is/are, and how each organizations call is written and sounds.
I've added more definitions of fraternity & sorority calls to the section below and have updated the videos of calls that are found in Part I of this series.
And I've added what my response would be if someone asks me* what historically Black Greek letter organization calls are and why BGLO have calls.
*I'm a long time inactive member of a BGLO (Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.), but I feel that -inactive or not- I can still respond to these questions:
If someone were to ask me what are BGLO fraternity and sorority calls, I would respond:
Historically Black Greek lettered organization calls are signature sounds that members of an organization makes to get the attention of another member or members of their organization who is some distance away. Calls can also be used to greet another member or member of that organization, and calls can also be used to "represent" (promote, "big up") their organization during public events. I would also add that out of respect, people who aren't members of a particular organization should not use that organization's call.
If someone were to ask me why historically Black Greek Letter Organization have calls, I would respond that "Calls are part of Black history and culture" - extending back to field hollers (arwhoolie) and perhaps even extending back to African musical traditions.
Fraternity & Sorority "Calls" [Latest revision July 1, 2017]
Historically Black [university based] Greek letter fraternity & sorority calls are signature vocalizations that members of a specific organization make to alert a member or members of that organization in the distance to his or her presence, and/or to greet another member or members of that specific organization. Historically Black fraternity & sorority cheers also are voiced to foster organizational unity and to "represent" (promote, "big up") their organization during their own chanting and/or celebratory gatherings and during public events.
A fraternity and sorority might have more than one signature call. These calls are usually informal (i.e. not recognized as an official part of that organization by that organization's governing body.) Non-members of a specific organization are strictly prohibited from verbally or in writing using that organization's call in public or in private.
Fraternity & Sorority "Roll calls"
When used by historically Black [university based] Fraternity & sororities (BGLOs) - and particularly by those BGLOs that are known as "The Divine Nine"*, "roll calls" refer to the consecutive vocalization of their signature call/s by multiple BGLOs during a public event. A host or moderator of that event formally announces each organization, usually in the order of their founding, beginning with the earliest founded fraternity and then, after the fraternities are recognized, beginning with the earliest founded sorority. Representatives of "sister" or "brother" organizations may respond to a call with their own call. Also, as an expression of admiration and/or unity, a member of a Divine Nine organization might combine their own signature call with part of the signature call of another member "Divine Nine" organization (either fraternity or sorority).* That said, I've read that some BGLO members disagree with that practice.
*Here's an example of combining two sorority calls:
t goodwill, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5n4A1mf_fr0
"Even though imma ZETA, i was jamming to SGRho's Roll call..LOL get it ladies!
DEFINITIONS FOR AND PURPOSES OF FRATERNITY/SORORITY TERM "CALLS" (from various universities' Greek organization glossaries)
These definitions are given in no particular order and are numbered for referencing purposes only.
Oklahoma State University Go Greek Glossary
A unique vocal expression attributed to an organization. Calls are special to members and shouldn't be replicated by non-members."
2. From https://www.unlv.edu/getinvolved/greek-definitions Fraternity and Sorority Definitions (Greek Dictionary)
Audible sounds used by members to acknowledge or gain the attention of other members. Calls may vary regionally within organizations, and some organizations may use more than one call."
3. From http://uca.edu/nphc/terminology/
"Calls – a unique vocal expression attributed to an organization. Please Do: Enjoy listening to the unique calls of the groups. Please Don’t: Repeat an organization’s particular call or response. It is considered a sign of disrespect."
4. From https://www.sa.sc.edu/fsl/greek-glossary/
"Call – A yell used mostly by NPHC organizations (although some NIC, NPC and local orgs have calls as well). Used to identify and greet brothers and sisters. For example, Alpha Kappa Alpha's call is SKEE-WEE. Non-members are not permitted to use the call.
NIC– Stands for North American Interfraternity Conference, and is the national coordinating body of all the men's fraternities. It does not enforce policies on the local IFC’s, and is totally different from the purpose of NPC and NPHC.
NPC– The National Panhellenic Conference is the organization that governs the 26 national women's sororities.
NPHC– The National Pan-Hellenic Council, the governing body of the 9 traditionally African American fraternities and sororities, also known as the Divine Nine. Also the local governing council for the NPHC organizations."
NPC is primarily a PWI organization ["PWI" is a term that I've often found used since the 2000s which means "Predominately White Institution". That term can be said to be the opposite of historically BGLO which means historically Black Greek Letter Organizations". "PWI" refers to historically and present day fraternities and sororities whose had/have mostly White members. In the past and currently, almost all the members of historically Black Greek letter organizations were/are Black. However, there have been and still are a small number of non-Black members of those organizations.
Three of the four historically Black fraternities are members of NIC. Those historically Black fraternities are:
Kappa Alpha Psi
Alpha Phi Alpha
Iota Phi Theta
[not Omega Psi Phi]
Source: http://nicindy.org/about/members/ [retrieved June 30, 2017
INFORMATION ABOUT NPHC
"The National Pan-Hellenic Council, Incorporated (NPHC) is currently composed of nine (9) International Greek letter Sororities and Fraternities: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. NPHC promotes interaction through forums, meetings and other mediums for the exchange of information and engages in cooperative programming and initiatives through various activities and functions."
The nine organizations listed above are informally referred to as "The Divine Nine".
Click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African-American_Greek_and_fraternal_organizations for a list of some other historically Black fraternities or historically Black sororities.
A STATEMENT ABOUT CALLS & HAND SIGNS BY NATIONAL PAN-HELLENIC COUNCIL
From http://www.afa1976.org/Portals/0/Membership_Intake_Guide_NPHC.pdf NPHC National Membership Intake Guide
Hand Signs & Calls
"Hand signs and calls have evolved into another historical facet of Black fraternal organization life. According to Kimbrough (2003), the concept of calls is embedded in both African and African-American tradition. These sounds were a form of yodeling known as whooping in the Congo and Angola tribes. Additionally, these audible sounds, also known as cries and arhoolies, could he heard being sung by slaves. It is not clear when calls were first used, however, it seems possible that calls used by NPHC organizations became prevalent during the mid-1970’s.
Much like calls, the exact origin of hand signs cannot be pinpointed. According to Kimbrough (2003), pictures from college campuses of Black fraternities and sororities indicate that hand signs became a part of the Black fraternal experience during the 1970’s. Although it is not clear how calls and hand signs evolved, these traditions are long standing.
These universal symbols can be seen as exclusive outward expressions of pride and of strong organizational identification."
Added August 29. 2016
I'm a very inactive member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (Gamma Zeta chapter, New Jersey, 1967). During the brief time in 1967 that I was active with that sorority, I definitely recall hearing and performing that organization's signature call "Skee Weee". I also definitely remember seeing and doing the organization's secret handshake. I know how to do AKA's hand sign, but I'm not sure that I remember seeing or doing an AKA hand sign before I voluntarily became inactive (which, for various reasons was shortly after I "went over" - i.e. officially became a member of that organization).
LIST OF NINE HISTORICALLY BLACK GREEK LETTER ORGANIZATION CALLS THAT ARE REFERRED TO AS "THE DIVINE NINE"
These organizations are given in categories (Fraternities/Sororities) and in chronological order with the earliest founded organizations in that category listed first.
Letters [or numbers] in these calls are often repeated to show enthusiasm and/or to stretch out the call.
Additions and corrections are welcome.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (1906)
Response [from a member or members of Alpha Phi Alpha] - "You know"
Kappa Alpha Psi, Fraternity Inc. (1911)
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. (1911)
Roo or Roo Roo
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. (1914)
Iota Phi Theta, Fraternity, Inc. (1963)
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (1908)
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority,Inc. (1920)
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. (1922)
Examples of these calls are given in the videos that are showcased in Part II of this series :.http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/09/seven-videos-of-black-greek-fraternity.html
ADDENDUM: SELECTED COMMENTS FROM TWO GREEK CHAT DISCUSSION THREADS ABOUT BGLO CALLS
"How were calls started?
Location: New York, NY
“The answer to your query is privileged information with respect to all of NPHC. And chances are no one will tell you on this board. You have guts for asking. But tell me this...would you have actually asked a member of the organization you are interested in this question in person?”
Originally posted by InterestedGDI:
"I certainly don't want to pry into anyones secrets but I am interested in knowing how and who was the first sorority/fraternity to start doing calls, if anyone knows any back up history on calls and why they are done it would be greatly appreciated"...
06-27-2000, 01:15 PM
Well, if anyone has been hearing the calls for years on your campus (or anywhere for that matter), then common sense would tell you that yes, it is done between one frat/sorority member to another. I knew that without anyone telling me. If you observe then you will learn.
06-28-2000, 12:10 AM
Originally posted by ZetaAce:
Wow, I think I can hear the Sarcasm.
I think AKAtude's point is, if you already asked someone and you got the exact same answer, what in the world makes you think that you're going to get more information on the internet. A lot of times people who are interested ask questions on the net that they KNOW they would not ask a member face to face."
"I think there is a misunderstanding. I never asked someone this question, since I don't know anyone in those organizations and there aren't any on my campus. However, if the Internet did not exist as a forum through which to pose this question, and I met someone who was making a call, then I would ask the person the same question, because I would be curious s to what the heck they were doing. After all, how am I to know that the question is a faux-pas? Then if they said, "I'm sorry, but I can't tell you that", then I would respect their response & leave it at that.
It is kind of like when the media ask a lawyer something that is privileged ...the lawyer would just say, "I'm sorry. That is privileged information"."
From http://www.greekchat.com/gcforums/showthread.php?postid=4165 "HAVE YALL EVER NOTICED HOW BGLOS.........."
07-19-2000, 09:00 AM
Location: Washington, DC
..."If you have wonder to yourself, "should I ask this question?" you probably shouldn't, because you will not get an answer, and while we are not trying to be elitist, we may end up hurting your feelings. I don't think that the Greeks on here are snobbish or mean spirited, but we do get tired of the same old questions that you know we can't and won't answer.
Most fraternities and sororities are secret organizations, and we guard our secrets from outsiders.
Now this is not to sound elitist or stand offish, but you will never learn our secrets unless you join our organizations, PERIOD.
So if you have a particular question of an organization that you are interested in, go to that organizations section, and ask one of the members. But don't get bent out of shape because someone answers you in a way that you may not like. "...
07-18-2000, 08:25 PM
..."Like in the Nupe forum, someone asked me and my bruhs what are call was. That's HIGHLY INAPPROPRIATE! This forum was set up, like the AKA said, to serve as a place where Greeks can come and talk about issues affecting us all. But we also talk about real world issue outside of the Greek realm. That's why we're here. If you have any question about how to join a certain BGLO, I would tell you here and to your face that you must do research. It's not that we're being rude, but people expect you to give them the keys to your organization without them having to work hard for them. I'm sure the rest of the DIVINE NINE would tell you the same also. I'm sorry if that's not to your liking. So now you know why we have this website, now you know what questions to ask. The expression that "no question is a stupid question", is not true. I'm saying you but a lot of interested people have come up in here and ask for information that they know they're not suppose to be asking. That's my opinion."...
07-18-2000, 09:12 PM
2000, 09:12 PM
..."(Originally posted by NUPE4LIFE)
"...someone asked me...what our call was. THAT'S HIGHLY INAPPROPRIATE!"
....I am not disputing that, matter of fact I do know about the culture, norms, and mores of BGLO, having pledged in a quasi-BGLO atmosphere. After eight years, I should know something about discretion.
Seriously, N4L, I don't think the issue here is so much whether or not a certain question on Greek Life is deemed appropriate for discussion so much as I see BGLO members questioning the motive for why it is being asked.
Ex. Someone asks you why you are called Nupes.
Is the motive:
Because they hear you shout it in your chants and calls and see it on your 'nalia and is just pure curious to know what "the deal" is?
Or is it because they got blackballed after trying to join a chapter and to be vindictive, they need some "inside info" to perp the fraternity.
I remember as a 1st semester freshman, I asked a Kappa what was a Phi Nu Pi. He quietly said, "Long story." End of discussion. I never asked again. I got the message. What do you think kind of impression he would leave me about his organization if he responded by giving me a beatdown? He knew my motive was not to perp, so he just responded quietly.
Since you don't know the motive, don't be quick to attack.
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO GOOD OLD FASHIONED TACT?!
I guess I am saying to BGLOs, if you must respond, please be tactful, not hostile and defensive. You don't know what the true motive of a person asking is, so just give a response, that while they won't know anything more about your org they could otherwise research about, they will know more OF the basic topic of the question asked."
"your 'nalia" – paraphernalia [clothing and other items that have the organization’s colors or symbol.
"perp" – perpetrate [pretend to be something you are not]
Location: Bourbonnais Il. 60914
"Okay, so I've been reading this thread, and one thing bothers me. When ManndingoNupe made the comment that a particular question about his call was wrong. First of all there are people on this board who are Greek, and wouldn't know that asking a question like that was disrespectful. I belong to an NPC sorority and we don't have calls. So, if I had seen that or read about that somewhere I would assume it would be okay to post something here, and get a reply.
In NO way would I be trying to offend you. I would be attempting to enlighten myself. I have read so many posts where BGLO members are appreciative of the insight they receive from GLO's. So, If I wanted to know something about a BGLO I would probably post it here. If that info. was privy, then a polite response, not that of anger, would suffice.
I love this board for one main reason I learn so much about things I never knew."
This concludes Part I of this pancocojams series on Black Fraternity & Sorority calls.
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