69 Years of Barbershop Singing History in Colorado Springs
The America the Beautiful Chapter of the Society for the preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet singing in America (Lately renamed the Barbershop Harmony Association) was founded and chartered on July 1, 1946 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Chapter in its early years was made up principally of choir members of two churches, First Christian and First Methodist Churches with emphasis provided by music store owner Fred Miller and the two close director- friends; Eugene McCleary and Bernard Vessey. Initially their meetings were held in the basement of Miller Music Company, on Pikes Peak Avenue but soon there were 20 or more men meeting in the little theatre at the City auditorium (Lon Chaney Theatre). McCleary later was elected Mayor of Colorado Springs and served with distinction.
Quartet singing was somewhat limited in the beginning and arrangements were many times choral singing; that is First Tenor, Second tenor, Baritone and Bass until Harry Sparrow came to town, retiring from an accounting career in Parsons Kansas. He brought a lot of barbershop arrangements with him and became the source of much of the music used in the chapter. He served as chorus director and president and was elected as the president of the Central States District and was referred to as “Mr. Barbershopper” with good reason in those early years. One of the early quartets formed and entertaining around town was “The Sunshine Boys” made up of four young students from Colorado Springs High School but included as the baritone, Max Morath who went on to a career playing ragtime piano as a one man show on Broadway. Max made the top of the charts and shared his fame with his friends here from time to time with memorable visits.
There have been many quartets in this chapter that have formed, contested, reformed and gone on to greater achievements in the Society. The Chapter itself can boast of two championship quartets that formed and were successful in their contesting efforts. The first of these was “The Hi-Chords” who won the Central States District Quartet championship in 1963. Somewhat later “The Rockies IV” became the Rocky Mountain District Senior Quartet Champions and in the same sequence became the International Senior Quartet champions in the “mid- winter” contest held in Corpus Christi in 1993.
One of the chapter’s memorable quartet efforts occurred in 1960 when they held a “pick-up quartet contest” within the chapter. The emerging quartet from this contest called themselves “The Monument Valley Singing Society and Social Group Four”. These four guys went overboard in their costuming with white tuxedo jackets, black bow ties, white tux shirt, long black sox with black patent leather shoes ……and oh they forgot… no pants. They obviously won the contest hands… or rather, pants down. Through the years the quartet name was used over and over but the presentation of the original quartet in this contest was never successfully reproduced or surpassed.
The America the Beautiful Chapter has maintained a chorus program through the years with several chorus names connected with the effort (Highland Harmonizers and Pikes Peak Chapter) . They have been contesting, first in the Central States District and then, after a redistricting effort, with the Rocky Mountain District as the Society recognized the size of the west and created the new district. A little known fact is that the America the Beautiful Chapter holds a District Championship award from 1957. The “rest of the story” is that there were only three choruses in the contest and having the contest in Colorado Springs made a lot of excess travel for the really good choruses in the Central States. An unlikely win for sure but the record is there.
For the last few years this chorus has been blessed with good musical leadership. Among the chorus directors have been several International quartet and chorus figures that have instilled their knowledge to the membership as the musical director. The latest of these is the dynamic lead singer of the 2010 International Champion Quartet “Storm Front”, in the person of Jim Clark who has made a remarkable improvement in the singing quality of the group in the two years he has been the musical leader. In 2011 the chorus won the, “Most Improved Chorus” award at the District Fall convention. The chorus won this award again in 2013.
The Chapter has met over the years at several locations in the city. Currently we meet on Tuesday nights at 7 O’clock at the Village Christian Church, 3113 Primrose Circle (NE of the shopping center at Fillmore and Hancock). Join us for a lot of fun and good singing.
Over 20 years ago when Denver International Airport (DIA) opened they were having a lot a trouble with the baggage system. It was new, it was electronic and it didn’t work all the time. We did a Spring Show which was a travelogue featuring songs from across America finishing with California Here I Come. When it came to the tag the stage was blacked out, the chorus stomped their feet to simulate and earthquake, while doing a quick costume change to western attire and the emcee calmed the audience. Lights went up and we finished the song with “Open up that DIA, Colorado Here I come” complete with a broken suitcase thrown from the chorus onto the stage. It was the hit of the show.
Christmas show 2011: The chorus performed Ave Maria for the first time in a performance that completely surprised the audience. It was sung in Latin, which no one thought we could do, based on our style of singing. The audience acceptance was so strong that we continued to perform it as part of the Christmas package for several more years and still do so from time to time today.
Check out our Photo Gallery page to see some visual history – old photos, programs, and articles centered around the Rocky Mountain District from the early days of barbershop!