Concert to blend harmony, humor
BY KIM GRIZZARD
The Daily Reflector
Friday, May 18, 2018
GREENVILLE — Diners at Oklahoma’s Tulsa Club must have thought there was something funny going on that spring evening when more than two dozen men met on the roof and spent several hours singing old songs.
Customer complaints about the noise caused the next meeting to be moved to the Hotel Tulsa, but the rooftop gathering in 1938 was the birth of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America. It later became the Barbershop Harmony Society, which remains the world’s largest all-male singing society with more than 80,000 members.
Eighty years later, the music still strikes a chord in Eastern North Carolina, though not on a rooftop. About two dozen men who make up the Carolina Chord Connection raise their voices to carry on this American tradition with songs like “In the Still of the Night” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” sung in four-part harmony with no musical accompaniment.
“Its all a cappella. It’s a unique art form in an of itself,” said Rick LaBrune, a member of Carolina Chord Connection since 2006.
“It has its own sound where the voices come together. That’s what’s so amazing about it.”
On Saturday, Carolina Chord Connection will come together with two other musical groups to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network. Hosted by WITN’s Dave Jordan (an honorary Carolina Chord Connection member), “There’s Something Funny Going On!” is the group’s seventh annual barbershop show. It will feature the regional championship quartet Let’s Sing! and will introduce Sassy Southern Sound, an area women’s barbershop chorus that began making music together last summer.
“There are a lot of (women’s) choruses, but people think about barbershop as being men,” Sassy Southern Sound President Gerrie Sanchez said. “The harmony is very similar.
“Some people love it; some people think it’s not their style,” she said. “But I think everybody should experience it.”
Barbershop music features a harmony that Jo Broadway has loved for more than 45 years.
“It’s not like singing any other kind of music,” Broadway said. “It stirs emotions as well as being harmonically pleasing.
“You don’t hear the piano and a little bit of voice. You hear the voices and that’s all.”
Broadway first joined a women’s barbershop chorus in Pennsylvania in 1972. She spent more than a decade with the group, which was part of Sweet Adelines International, a 23,000-member nonprofit musical education association for women, with chapters in 15 countries.
When Broadway moved to Eastern North Carolina, she brought with her the love for barbershop music, but finding a chorus was more of a challenge than it was in the Northeast. She joined a women’s chorus, but it disbanded after a few years.
In 2012, she became director of the men’s group, Carolina Chord Connection, taking over for Stephen Brand. When Brand returned last year, Broadway branched out to help launch Sassy Southern Sound, directed by Justin Collis.
The group has more than a dozen members ranging in age from 30s to 70s.
“That’s one of the good things about this,” Broadway said. “It’s something that you can do, even when you can’t play golf anymore or you can’t get in the boat and go fishing anymore. A lot of things you can’t do anymore, but you still sing.”
Carolina Chord Connection also boasts a diverse membership, with singers from teenagers to senior adults. There is a wide range of musical knowledge as well.
“There are a lot of musical people here with a lot of musical backgrounds who know music in and out,” said President Ben Harris, who was invited to Carolina Chord Connection after a quartet from the group performed at a Valentine’s dinner at his church.
“We’ve got guys in here with perfect pitch that can look at a piece of music and start singing just by what’s written on that paper,” Harris said. “The only thing that I get off that piece of paper are the words … I just sing. I don’t read music.”
During performances like the one on Saturday, no one is reading off the paper. Barbershop chorus members, who rehearse every Monday except for holidays, memorize the lyrics to songs such as oldies “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” and “Java Jive.”
In some cases, the accompanying jokes, which are scripted, are nearly as old as the music.
Harris calls them “dad jokes” for their corny use of wordplay and puns and for being family friendly.
“We want to have fun,” Harris said. “You’ll look at our crowd and say, ‘There are a lot of granddads in there.’ You want to be able to bring your grandkids in there and watch the show and not worry about what’s going to be said.”