From The Vault:

Volume 3 Number 4 – Fall 2023

A NOTE FROM YOUR DISTRICT HISTORIAN

Greetings friends of the Illinois District!  By the time you read this, we will have completed another successful annual convention.  Thanks to the efforts of President Ludwig and his team for making this year’s event a memorable one!

In this issue of “From the Vault”, we honor a true icon from within the district and Society ranks, spotlight a popular district quartet that went on to capture the International gold, celebrate four QCA men who achieved multiple International medals while singing different parts in different quartets, showcase a special artifact from Society history, and remember a young female quartet from central Illinois that was all the rage in the 1950s.  And for our second installment of the new feature “Retro Recording,” we turn the clock back to the fall contest in 1989 and listen to a live recording of a fan favorite quartet of siblings.

This issue would not have been possible without the help of my fellow historians Bob Squires, Jim Stahly, and Joe Sullivan, whom I owe a great deal of thanks.  Also, I want to acknowledge Tom Felgen for his contributions to this issue.

I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane and I wish you all the very best for the holidays!

Rich Hansen

ILL District Historian

Floyd Connett

Barbershop Icon

(adapted from an article written by Jim Griffith & the QCA Archives)

When you sing the PoleCat arrangements of “Down Our Way”, “Wild Irish Rose”, “Honey Little Lize”, etc. have you ever noticed the arranger’s name in the upper right corner?  All of these songs and many others, including “Lida Rose”, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”, and the majority of the songs in the Just Plain Barbershop folio, were arranged by a great barbershop pioneer – Mr. Floyd Connett.

Connett was born on April 3, 1915 in Peoria, IL.  An actual barber by trade, Connett was introduced to barbershop by the legendary director of the Corn Belt ChorusJohn Hanson (See FTV – Summer 2022 issue).

Connett began his barbershop career as a Sweet Adelines director for Peoria’s Belles of Harmony in 1948.  He became the director of the Bloomington Chapter in 1953, and in just three years, led the group to a district championship and then third place in international competition in 1957.  That was just the fourth year that choruses competed and his talent was recognized by Society leaders at the Los Angeles convention.  Connett was subsequently hired as the Society’s first field man representative and began traveling the country by car, visiting hundreds of chapters, spreading the gospel of barbershop to thousands of members, and sharing his musical and leadership knowledge.  In 1961, Connett became the national education director for Sweet Adelines.

Connett holds the distinction of being the only Society member to have been certified in all judging categories (there were five at the time).  He was the editor of Just Plain Barbershop, which remains the most widely-used publication in Society history.  He also developed the inverted “cone” concept, which defines the proper relationship of the four parts that produces the strongest overtones, a principle still used today.

Connett sang lead in a Chillecothe, IL area quartet known as The Detonators, however he never competed with a quartet.  Despite that, Connett not only understood the barbershop style, he also knew how to teach it and coach it.  When The Buffalo Bills were selected to appear in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, it was Connett who coached the champs during preparations for the Broadway production.  In addition, one of his quartets from Peoria, The Junior Misses (see “Youth In Harmony” article in this issue), went on to become international Queens of Harmony in 1956.

The Society inducted Connett into its first class of Hall of Fame members in 2004 and the Illinois District’s QCA rightly acknowledged Connett in 2012 with their “Music Man” award.  Connett passed away from a heart attack on September 21, 1963, but left a legacy that has been shared and enjoyed by thousands of barbershoppers (men and women) since his passing.  He was truly a barbershop pioneer, not only for the district, but for the Society as well.

QCA Spotlight

Chicago News

(adapted from an 1982 article written by Fran Wright for the Harmonizer)

In this issue we highlight a special district quartet, one that within two years of winning a district championship went on to capture the gold at International – Chicago News!  The rapid rise of this quartet from near obscurity to rulers of the barbershop world was hasty and a bit frustrating at times.  The group, consisting of tenor Ray Henders (tenor), Butch Koth (lead), Greg Wright (baritone), and Tom Felgen (bass), officially formed in early 1979 and had just six weeks to prepare for their first competition – the Illinois District primaries that spring.  They easily earned the right to represent Illinois at the International competition in Minneapolis, where they came in 8th.  The next year, the quartet received 2nd place silver medals at Salt Lake City, singing one of their signature songs – “I Want a Girl (Just Like the Girl that Married Dear Ol’ Dad).”   And one year later – the group obtained the coveted gold in Detroit, MI.

Whereas it seems like the group was simply an “overnight” sensation, a closer look reveals that each of these four members had a vast amount of barbershop experience and had rightfully “paid his dues” over the years.

Bass Tom Felgen’s barbershop roots go back to the 1940s while as a junior high student.  Later, while attending Lake Forest College, he joined a group called North Blends (later known as the Up and Atoms) and then gained fame as bass of The Four Renegades (see FTV – Summer ‘22 issue), in which he won his first International gold medal in 1965.  Felgen remained with the Renegades until the early 1970s, after which he moved on to singing with a mixed quartet called The Fabulous Forties with Lynn Hauldren (see FTV – Winter ‘23 issue).

Tenor Ray Henders was no stranger to barbershopping either.  His earliest barbershop experience was in the early 1950s.  Singing first with Mischiefers and then with the Chord KingsVigilantesand The Midnight Oilers, Henders captured a district championship and a bronze medal with Soundtracks in the 1970s.  When that group disbanded, Ray and Tom decided to join forces and seek out two other committed barbershoppers who would be willing to put in the time for a quality quartet.

After several contacts, they heard about a lead singer named Eugene “Butch” Koth, who had previously sung with Landmarks, the 1976 Cardinal District Champions who competed in the 1976 and 1977 International contests.  Unfortunately, Butch lived a great distance away, in Three Oaks, Michigan.  The late 1970s oil crisis didn’t help matters, putting a financial strain on the group to try and rehearse.  The three men decided to get together with Bob Zimny, a baritone known to Butch who lived in Hobart, IN.  They liked the sound, and were encouraged by the potential – until the Zimnys decided to move to Florida.

Timing is everything, and lucky for Tom, Ray, and Butch – the right (or should I say “Wright”) baritone was now available.   Greg Wright, formerly of the popular district quartet The Sundowners (see FTV – Winter ‘22 issue), had recently moved back to the Chicago area.  A seasoned barbershopper with medals to his name, Greg agreed to give the new quartet a try and the group began rehearsing in the fall of 1978.  However, the location of the Koth home, and a brutal winter (‘78-’79 – remember that one?) halted rehearsals.

The guys were determined to overcome these obstacles.  They chose a central point for rehearsals and enlisted the aid of legendary coach Lyle Pilcher (see FTV – Spring ‘22 issue).  Rehearsals resumed in February, 1979 and the quartet appeared on a show in St. Louis in early March.  The audience reaction convinced the guys they had what it took to be champions.

The quartet sang regularly for a few years, until various circumstances surrounding Greg’s schedule warranted the ending of regular performances. Wanting to get back together, the remaining three reunited in the late 1990s, this time enlisting the help of veteran barbershopper Joe Sullivan to fill in on the baritone spot.  The group did several more shows, and was the guest quartet at the first district Youth in Harmony festival held at Mt. Zion H.S. in 1998 (see FTV – Winter ‘23 issue).  This new combination sang until 1999; however original baritone Greg Wright did make an appearance with the group at the 2006 AIC Show on the occasion of their 25th anniversary, which was also the group’s final performance.

The Illinois District salutes our once & always, 1979 District (and 1981 International) Champions – Chicago News!

“I Want a Girl” (1980 International Convention Salt Lake City performance)

Precious Medal(ist)s

For most of us, earning a medal at International is an amazing feat that may only happen once, if at all.  But did you know that our district can boast of four, very talented QCA members who medaled in different ILL district quartets on two different voice parts!   They are:

  1. Doug Miller (bari – Sundowners/Soundtracks & bass – Avant Garde)
  2. Joe Sullivan (lead – Four Renegades & bari – Avant Garde)
  3. Greg Wright (tenor – Sundowners & bari – Sundowners/Chicago News)
  4. Jay Giallombardo (bari – Grandma’s Boys & bass – Chicago Chord of Trade)
Cover of The Harmonizer showing the new SPEBSQSA lapel emblem

In this issue, we dig deep into the archives, almost back to the beginning of the Society itself – well, its 5th anniversary, actually.  It was then that the Society adopted its first logo, which was featured on the front cover of the December, 1943 issue of The Harmonizer – our featured artifact for this issue.

The logo actually dates back to the spring of 1942.  It was then that Atlanta Chapter member Charles Cimerro suggested to fellow chapter member Dick Sturges (editor of The Harmonizer) an idea that could be used as a Society emblem.  The design was a barber pole, with a lyre in the background, and the Society’s initials in a ribbon across both.  A year and a half later, in the fall of 1943, past president of the Detroit Chapter and National Board Member Joe Wolff also submitted a design.  His showed a barber pole superimposed on a lyre, all contained in a circle.

According to Sturges, he took both men’s ideas and came up with his own, and convinced the National Board to accept it.  The new Society logo was reduced in size to become a lapel emblem.  The pin was subsequently made available to all members through their chapter secretaries at the (very affordable) price of $1.25 each.

The original name SPEBSQSA (Society for the Preservation & Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America) was intended to lampoon President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal alphabet agencies of the 1930s.  The organization soon just became known as “The Society.”  The familiar Cimerro/Wolff/Sturges design was used by the Society until its “retirement” in 2005 when it re-branded itself as “The Barbershop Harmony Society” and adopted the new logo that is still in use today.

The Junior Misses

(adapted from the January 2018 issue of The Pitchpipe)

This issue’s spotlight on youth in harmony takes us back to central Illinois in the mid-1950s.  At that time, four young teenage girls joined the Peoria Belles of Harmony Sweet Adelines chorus.  Members included Sue Brown (tenor), Katie Curnette (lead), Helen Melzer (baritone), and Christine Coe (bass).  Director Floyd Connett (see “Icon” article in this issue) saw the potential with this young quartet and began to arrange, coach, and mentor them.  He even drove them to their gigs and taught new arrangements along the way!

The girls decided to sing at the 1955 contest held in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  They did well in preliminary competition, however they were almost disqualified due to a new requirement that stated Sweet Adelines champions were to be at least 18 years of age.  The organization felt that minors were not ready for the responsibilities that would come with representing Sweet Adelines should they win.  That’s when Maxine Connett (Floyd’s wife) came to the rescue and urged the organization to allow this special group.  It worked – the girls were “grandfathered” in and allowed to compete.  They came in second and wowed the audience with their sound.

The next year at Wichita, Kansas, the girls took top honors.  Thanks to the help from “Pop” Connett, the group was crowned “Queens of Harmony”, making them the youngest quartet to ever win a Sweet Adelines competition.  They appeared on numerous chapter shows during their reign and were an audience favorite due to their high energy and ability to sing bell-tones.  The legacy these girls left inspired more young women to participate in barbershop and even led to Sweet Adelines’ “Young Women in Harmony” program.

The Brooks Brothers

If you were a barbershopper that attended district conventions back in the 1980s and 1990s, then you’ll likely remember a quartet of siblings known as The Brooks Brothers.  Originally from Charleston, IL, the quartet of brothers included Scott on tenor, Dave on bass, with Mike and Doug sharing lead & baritone.  The quartet was known for their comedic routines (remember the Sumo wrestling outfits?) and were favorites on chapter shows.  For this issue, we celebrate those days by including a live recording from the 1989 district quartet finals in which the brothers sang a parody of the classic “Side By Side.”

The Brooks Brothers in 1989 – From L to R: Scott Brooks (tenor), Mike Brooks (lead), Dave Brooks (bass) and Doug Brooks (bari)

Next Issue: Coming Winter 2024

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