Founders Chorus History


Who really started the society for the preservation of barbershop quartet singing?  This friendly debate continues among society historians and others.  In 1938, men singing together in barbershops had not completely died, but, perhaps just relocated.  The truth is there were actually several different groups in tulsa (as well as throughout the country) who gathered and sang close harmony for pleasure.  The Tulsans, a large city-wide classical and glee club chorus, was a popular outlet of the day.  Many Tulsa barbershoppers came from this group.  

The family unit was very musical with pianos in most homes and singing (harmonizing), still a popular pastime. Many could still remember first hand, enjoying the old vaudeville quartets and the professionals such as the Peerless Quartet from the turn of the century.  The love of close harmony existed even though it was no longer the popular music of the day.

[Today] there are those who yearn to "bring back" the old songs such as the 50's/60's rock and roll, the 70's disco movement, and even the 80's pop. One shudders to imagine today's lovers longing to hear "that good old RAP" they grew up with. But by comparison, the urge of preserving close harmony singing in the late 1930's was the same. Some say it was an accident, some say it was fate. Either way (or perhaps both) the movement we now enjoy as the Society for The Preservation Of Encouragement of Barber Shop Singing in America (SPEBSQSA) can be credited to a meeting in Tulsa organized by Owen Clifton Cash.

Cash was really only interested in getting a few guys together to sing. There was no grand plan, no grand scheme. He and acquaintance Rupert Hall had met in Kansas City by chance and discussed forming a group. On his return, Cash drafted an invitation and mailed it to the 14 singers they knew might show up and encouraged them to bring guests.

A few weeks later meetings moved to the Alvin Plaza hotel hosting 75 to 150 men. What would later be known as the Tulsa Number 1 Chapter, would continue to meet at the Alvin for 37 years.  The gathering of May 31st was possibly the most important single event in the history of the society. Sixty three singers met on the Mezzanine level of the Alvin. In the heat of the early summer night the windows were opened to the street.

Reportedly, there was such a sound coming from the Alvin, passersby on the way home stopped to listen, and cars began to pull over.  Such a commotion was caused, a rare traffic jam resulted.  Aparently someone (some have rumored it was O.C.) called the cops.  Ralph Martin, a reporter for the Daily World, followed a policeman upstairs to the singer's songfest to discover the source of the "riot".  Even before the traffic jam was dispersed.  


Cash took Martin aside and began writing his story.  The n ext morning, Martin's "song-by-song" account of the disturbance appeared under the headline of..."No, No Folks - You're Wrong!  That was Musical History in the Making!".  Cash had taken the liberty to embellish the truth just a bit.  He had told Martin that the Chicago Tribune, the Associated Press, as well as Time magazine had show interest in the new group formed to preserve barbershop quartet singing.


He told of friends in Kansas City, Oklahoma City, St. Louis and other towns forming similar groups.  The story was so "unique" it was picked up by the Associated Press wire and ran in newspapers around the country the very next Sunday.  Those Cash mentioned in the article were surprised to read the report and began to get calls from interested singers.  Groups began to spring up all over the country. 

. . . The society was born.


(Reprinted by permission)

4-11-38 Invitation

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