Updated: Mar 4, 2019
by Jim Bagby, faithful reporter
Photos by Jay Hawkins and Keith Richmond
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 SPPB 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 Riverwalk 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 it's own song to fit into a waltz meter; you had to be there). Also introduced was the new SPPB 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 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. Fitzpatrick 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 article below).
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.