University Union Brings Big Name Musicians

Since 1962, the student-run programming board has been uniting the campus through entertainment while giving young leaders a chance to gain professional skills.

Smokey Robinson performs at Syracuse University in 1969
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles performed in Syracuse for the first time at the War Memorial, capping off the first weekend of the fall 1968 semester.

On Aug. 1, 1968, a full-page ad appeared in The Daily Orange. With the slogan “UU is You” at the top, University Union advertised its scheduled events for the upcoming year. Along with notable initiatives like “The Place” (a precursor to The People’s Place coffee shop in Hendricks Chapel), dances on the Quad and “Bull Sessions” (the forebear of Coffee with the Chancellor), the University Union announced plans for concerts “designed to appeal to fans of all types of music.” The first major act, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, played at the War Memorial during Orientation Week on Sunday, Sept. 29, 1968. It was the first time Robinson ever played in this area. Tickets cost $3-$4. 

Jabberwocky band plays at Syracuse University in 1973
The Jabberwocky hosted musical performances between 1969 and 1985. The on-campus bar and music venue borrowed its name from the fierce character in Lewis Carroll’s novel “Through the Looking Glass.”

Five decades later, University Union remains the official programming board of Syracuse University. President Anna Simone  ’20 and Vice President Lauren Crimmins ’20 oversee the board of directors, the executive board and all general members and also act as liaisons between the Syracuse University administration and University Union members. More specifically, they oversee all booking, planning, promotion and execution for University Union concerts, including Juice Jam, Bandersnatch, Mayfest and Block Party. Additionally, they book performing arts shows that feature speakers, comedians, and weekly and advanced cinema screenings. 

Block Party on Syracuse University Campus in 1970
The 1970 Spring Weekend (precursor to the annual Block Party) featured musician Junior Wells. The construction of Bird Library provides the backdrop. (Photo courtesy of Syracuse University Archives, uncredited)

Simone was attracted to University Union before moving to campus. “I found out about University Union on social media during my senior year of high school after I committed to Syracuse and knew I wanted to be part of it as soon as I got to campus,” says Simone, a New Jersey native. She calls the student experience at University Union events her “number-one motivator.” 

Crimmins became involved with University Union during her first year on campus. “As an alumna of LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, I found myself missing music more and more,” Crimmins says. She finds having a direct role in organizing events that bring the student body together motivates her every day. University Union allowed me to explore the industry side of music I had never considered and immediately loved. 

Crimmins also relishes the opportunity to effect positive change through her leadership. “I think University Union has come a long way in ensuring our events are inclusive, but improving the inclusivity and accessibility of our events is a personal goal I have worked toward in my time in UU,” Crimmins says. “I hope to instill these same goals in future directors.”

2006 Photo of Kanye West performing at Juice Jam from Onondagan Yearbook
The 2006 Block Party featured headliner Kanye West performing for 8,137 fans at the Dome. (Photo courtesy of Syracuse University Archives, taken by Lindsay Blackwell)

Over the years, University Union has brought an impressive number of musicians to Syracuse University. Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane performed at Syracuse only months after appearing at the 1969 Woodstock music festival. Other notable names include the Talking Heads, Genesis, The Police, James Brown, Prince, Billy Joel, Nas, Destiny’s Child (featuring Beyoncé), Kanye West and 21 Savage, among others. 

Requirements vary for holding a major event on campus. For large events, like September’s Juice Jam, planning begins in MayFirst, University Union surveys students to find out which artists they want to see. Next, student leaders reach out to booking agents to gauge prices and availability of the artists. While the booking process unfolds, University Union coordinates with the University’s administration to help plan such logistics as stage production, safety, ticketing and staffing.  

When students return from summer break, the directors coordinate with marketing, public relations and social media teams to put together a promotional plan. This includes ordering giveaway items, arranging paid digital promotion and working with designers to produce posters and other assets. 

For students interested in working with University Union, there are many ways to contribute. All Syracuse University and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry students are eligible to participate. Any student can join as a general member and later apply to positions with the executive board and board of directors. University Union’s goal is for events to be representative of what the student body wants. The more students contribute to booking events, the better.  

Both Simone and Crimmins say live music are a catalyst for human connection. They see University Union’s role today as especially important because it brings people together for an experience that can’t be replicated online. 

Lauren and Anna backstage at Juice Jam
President Anna Simone ’20 and Vice President Lauren Crimmins ’20 backstage at the 2019 Juice Jam. (Photo courtesy of University Union)

“I hope to work in the entertainment industry when I graduate in May and feel so immensely prepared because of the professional development I have experienced through my involvement with UU,” Simone says. “Since our organization is student run, we are the points of contact for agents, artists and Syracuse administration while planning our events. This level of responsibility has equipped me with professional and organizational skills I can take with me in the future.” 

Like Simone, Crimmins has also found the management experience with University Union to be invaluable. “Overseeing a 15-person board of directors, 60-person executive board and around 100 active general members has been both challenging and extremely rewarding,” Crimmins says. “Being able to rely on and support the University Union team while ensuring everything from contracting, catering, security and staffing is secured for each event has prepared me with organizational skills and an understanding of the industry that cannot be taught in a classroom.” 

Brandon Dyer

This story was published on .


Also of Interest

  • University Union

    University Union is the official programming board of Syracuse University. Entirely run by a team of dedicated students, it is one of the largest registered student organizations at the university and hosts large scale concert events including the annual Juice Jam festival in September and Mayfest and Block Party in April.

  • People's Place

    People's Place, located in the lower level of Hendricks Chapel, is an independent, student run, non-profit coffee shop... offering great food, great prices, and a cool atmosphere.