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SPPBSQSUS Inaugural Convention in San Antonio

Harmonious, Historic, Heavenly Happening

by Jim Bagby

          It was almost too good to be true. The first convention of the Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in the United States had it all: quartets in every corner, woodshedding, tags, great old songs and arrangements recalled with varying degrees of success by foursomes of veterans and rookies alike, a bottomless beer keg, a hoot of a pickup quartet contest, good food, an amazing guest chorus, the River Walk...did we mention beer? And even a guy who had been at the 1939 Tulsa convention.


          The Jan. 17-20, 2019 weekend at the Hilton San Antonio Airport glorified to the fullest the SPPBSQSUS motto: “Bringing back our Music, our Fellowship and our Fun!”


          More than 100 members (102, to be exact) of an organization then less than one year old (the first dues were collected on Feb. 2 of 2018) hummed into San Antonio from 27 states and Canada. It was the realization of the vision of SPPBSQSUS founder Montana Jack Fitzpatrick, the grizzled and outspoken retired naval force of nature who has a new idea every 10 minutes – and most of them he cajoles into fruition.

Montana: Wall-to-Wall Smiles

          But back up a moment – this gathering did NOT have it all. There was little sleep; our ballroom meeting room, the halls and the lobby “temple of our hobby” were occupied by singers virtually around the clock. And there was almost no agenda – a full buffet breakfast Friday, Saturday and Sunday, a Friday night dinner and an optional trip to the famed River Walk Saturday. The rest of the time was given over to just...singing. (Did we mention beer?)


          “ I never, ever recall being at a barbershop event where everyone was smiling —the entire weekend – until this one,” Montana Jack said later. “There were wall-to-wall smiles. Everyone came to have fun and they did – with gusto!”


          There were singalongs at the Friday dinner led by Randy Loos, Brian Beck and Steve Delehanty (who had folks use pitch pipes to accompany a B-flat medley, each table choosing its own song to fit into a waltz meter; you had to be there). Also introduced was the new SPPBSQSUS theme song, “Brothers in Harmony,” composed for us by Norm Starks and arranged by Bill Eberius.

BLOY to Kinny Ray

          Another highlight of the dinner was the presentation of the first (we hadda lot of firsts) SPPBSQSUS Barbershop Leader of the Year Award to Kenny Ray Hatton. His one-man recruiting effort changed the early face of our organization. Fitzgerald says Hatton first called him last April, when SPPB had about 30 members, and decided to get involved. After that Jack often joked “We have been hit by hurricane Kenny!”

          Two months later we had grown to 228 members. Not all had been contacted personally by Hatton, but many could be traced to him. He was calling Jack daily with new names and follow-ups to see if so-and-so had paid. If someone said he could not afford to join, Kenny helped with the fee or paid it. He bought T-shirts. He kicked in on San Antonio travel expenses. Hatton chaired the early SPPB steering committee and he was instrumental in finding Dick Treptow to write our bylaws.

FIH, Codger Quartets Big Hits

          The climax of the dinner came when emcee Joe Pollio instructed everyone to turn their chairs away from the stage: 90 members of the Friends in Harmony Chorus had quietly assembled behind us. Most of you have read about this group in the Harmonizer and the remarkable growth to more than 120 under the singular leadership of veteran international medalist director Artie Dolt (see sidebar).


          The FIH put on a delightful 30-minute concert for us with singers from three generations, many of them brand-new barbershoppers and about one-third of those on hand were already SPPB members.


          The first Old Codgers Quartet Contest had been announced with a lot of rules and some complaints from the non-codgers, resulting eventually in all the rules being dismissed and Steve Delehanty showing his, uh, prowess in at least half of the nine-quartet field. Judges were chosen from among those not talented enough to form quartets, and their choice for the traveling and individual trophies went to the foursome who called themselves Senior Moments: George Hatalosky, Maurice Collins, Irv Englebrecht, and Wendell Glass. They sang so well there were rumors of their being an organized quartet.


          No other placements were announced – likely for the well-being of the panel – but loudly hoo-rahed were Colonel Mustard and His Privates and Full Frontal Harmony.

And Even More Quartets

          We got another treat earlier with a performance by four guys who total over 200 years of Society experience among them, Last Resort. This easy-going foursome, which is likely to show up anywhere across the country, is (top down) Stew Bush, Mike Connelly, Don Barnick, and Tom Felgen. To list their pedigree, medals and accomplishments would take up the rest of the page (and just embarrass them), but it was a delight to hear them – and sing with them. Barnick, as usual, was ubiquitous as the barbershopping world's most knowledgeable and patient tag teacher.


          Half of another former top-10 quartet from Louisville (that's Loouhvuhl), Bill Myers and Ken Buckner, stopped in a corner one magical half hour to recreate song after song from the Citation repertoire with Hatton and Todd Buckner. Another magic moment for young and old.


          “Hey, I gotta say a word about our many members wearing gold medals,” Fitzpatrick raved in the aftermath. “They were, every one of them, gentlemen and gems. They sang and ate and joked with everyone. Even the worst singer in the house got to sing with his heroes. Truth be told, I think they had more fun than any of us. “

SO WHEN WE GONNA DO IT AGAIN? It's official: The next annual convention will be back at the same site in San Antonio, Jan. 16-19, 2020. AND, a smaller scale mid-year event might be planned for Chicago. Stay tuned for details.

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