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The TV show Glee, which after six seasons airs its series finale Friday night, has been a goodwill ambassador for a capella since its first episode in 2009, drawing millions of viewers to a genre many are quick to label uncool. The show’s glee club, of course, has been as much a focal point as a vehicle to discuss things that really matter, like friendship, love and teamwork.
Back in 1952, another group of ambassadors used choral singing to forge meaningful connections. They were the Smith College Glee Club, 32 singers deep and proficient in everything, LIFE wrote, “from Bach to Hammerstein.” The singers traveled from Massachusetts to England, Switzerland, Brussels, Italy and the Netherlands, sharing their music but also, as the magazine emphasized, representing their home country’s “culture and charm.”
Their antics were more fit for the pages of a magazine than the script of a TV dramedy—from innocent dalliances with Dutchmen to misplaced passport fiascos, the drama wasn’t quite at the level of Glee’s jocks-versus-nerds war and pregnant cheerleaders. But drama or no, as Gleeks everywhere will tell you, glee has the power to topple barriers, whether they be between nations or cafeteria tables.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.