Anytime you hear Omega Psi Phi chants, you can be sure there are some proud members of this prestigious fraternity nearby. Whether it's the harmonies of canonic verse or simply the hallmark "WOOF!" of the "Q-dogs", these chants hold a beloved place in the history of collegiate Greek organizations.
From Four to 150,000
Omega Psi Phi was founded in 1911 by three Howard University students: Edgar A. Love, Oscar J. Cooper and Frank Coleman, under the direction of their faculty advisor, Professor Ernest E. Just. The initials of the fraternity come from the Greek phrase meaning Friendship is Eternal to the Soul and reflects the strong commitment the members have to their fraternity, their community, and each other. "Omega Psi Phi until the day I die" is a common sentiment.
The members of the fraternity informally refer to themselves as "Que's" (pronounced like the letter "Q") and also as "Dogs." This is reflected by the guttural barking that comprises their most basic chant. In fact, in recent years the popular song Who Let the Dogs Out has become associated with the fraternity, and popular movies such as "Stomp the Yard" dramatize the rivalry between fraternities on the campuses of historically Black colleges and universities. Q's now number over 150,000 members, including such famous people as Bill Cosby, Jesse Jackson, Vernon Jordan, and Charles Drew.
Examples of Omega Psi Phi Chants
The chants used by the members of Omega Psi Phi (or, as it is sometimes shortened, "Q Psi Phi") range in complexity from simple "call and response" to layered chants and vocal harmonies. For example, a leader will call out
We are the brothers of Q Psi Phi,
The Mother Pearl and that's no lie,
We're gonna live, we're gonna die
In the name of Q Psi Phi
...and after each stanza, the group would repeat the phrase. This is not done statically; every chant has an associated set of "steppin'" moves that are performed with the precision of a close-order drill team. The moves are very strong and athletic, and often stylized - for example, the technique known as "grittin'" involves an angry thrusting out of the lower jaw. Elizabeth Fine, author of "Soulstepping", described the pledges of 1995 as having shaven heads, gold paint on their faces, and wearing combat boots, tan pants, blue sweatshirts and sunglasses - the military uniformity heightened by the shields they all held, bearing the insignia of their organization. However, all of these moves have a tradition and special meaning to the fraternity members, and should not be imitated or taken lightly by others who have not been invited by the Q's to do so.
Other Omega Psi Phi chants pay respect to their history - for example, the "Mother Pearl" referred to in the above chant is the Alpha chapter of the fraternity founded in Washington D.C. in 1911. Another chant pays tribute to the founding members:Cooper, Coleman, Love, and Just,
They are watching over us...
...referring to the four founding members. Many of the chants also gently (or not so gently) chide, deride, and ridicule the other fraternities, which has become its own special kind of art form - being able to both "attack" and "defend" in steppin' contests, but still maintain their own pride, dignity and style.
Pop Songs and Staggered Harmonies
Aside from the pop song Who Let the Dogs Out other songs have been used by Q's in their chanting - such as a version of Down in the Valley. However, there are also very original and complex steppin' routines with chants designed to rally a crowd in support of the fraternity. These "staggered harmonies" would have, for example, three sub-groups of dogs, each given a particular chant and set of moves. The leader would then start each sub-group by doing the moves and chants with them, gradually letting the groups build in intensity and working the crowd up into a frenzy. This kind of canonic performance is a great example of the strong artistry that combines with the cultural significance and fraternal pride the Omega Psi Phi chants embody.