> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
The Louisville Thoroughbreds feel right at home in Southern Indiana.
Whether you live in Southern Indiana or Louisville, the Ohio River can feel like an ocean. There is the economic competition, college sports and bridge debates. But there is an organization within the world of music and entertainment which boasts influential contributors from both sides of the river, and that would be the “Louisville Thoroughbred Men’s Chorus.” In fact, it might be more accurate to refer to them as the “Kentuckiana Thoroughbreds.”
Louisville resident Jerry Strange competed on the international stage with the Thoroughbreds for the first time in 1963, and is still active and competing today. When asked about the Southern Indiana influence on the trajectory and history of the chorus, he left no doubt that Hoosier involvement has been substantial and meaningful.
“There were guys like Frank Anderson, a postmaster from Salem, and Larry Knott from Jeffersonville played a big part,” he said. “Murrill Luse, Charlie Oberhausen and Leroy King from Jeffersonville and John Smith from Scottsburg. We used to tease John about how much ribbing he would get trying to check into a hotel using his name, John Smith. These guys played a big part in our success as a competitive chorus.”
Louisville resident W.C. Walter has been a mainstay in the chorus since joining in 1969, and he was in total agreement with Strange. “There is no doubt that participation from guys in Southern Indiana helped us reach many of our goals,” Walter said. “There was a quartet called the ‘Downsmen’ that won the district competition in the ‘60s or '70s, which is no small feat. Three of the four members of that quartet were from Southern Indiana.”
The Louisville Thoroughbred men’s chorus traces its roots to 1945. Louisville businessman Fritz W. Drybrough invited a number of friends to his home to listen to a once-popular style of music, barbershop harmony. The four-part harmony, a cappella style of singing had been in vogue from the turn of the century through the 1920s, but with the advancement of the electronic media, the barbershop style was steadily replaced by the crooners and big band of the swing era, but it never truly went away. Iconic groups such as the Eagles, the Beach Boys, Crosby Still and Nash, Simon and Garfunkel, the Bee Gees and the Andrew Sisters all utilized elements of the barbershop style of singing. The barbershop style is four-part harmony which results in a acoustic phenomena known as the “ringing chord.” Other names are the angel’s voice, the fifth voice, the overtone, or the barbershop seventh. The sensation is a tone or note that is heard by the audience which is created by the overlapping parts of tenor, lead, baritone and base. The ringing chord is noticeable only with certain kinds of chords and when all voices are equally rich in harmonics and properly balanced. It is not heard in chords created on modern instruments, and is unique to the barbershop style of singing.
The Louisville #1 Chapter is part of “The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America” (SPEBSQSA) which was founded by O.C. Cash, a Tulsa lawyer, in 1938. Cash presented the Louisville #1 Chapter with its charter on June 10, 1946.
Through the years the Louisville Chapter became a trend setter under the leadership of director Jim Miller, winning numerous international singing championships in the '60s, '70s and '80s. The thoroughbreds were the first chorus to win seven international championships. And while the Thoroughbreds have not competed on the international stage since 2005, there is a definite excitement and upward momentum within the chorus. In 2011 the Thoroughbreds were named the top barbershop chapter in the world as measured by the Barbershop Harmony Society, and under the inspirational directorship of Drew Wheaton, the chorus has its eye on the international stage once again.
“Every organization tends to have periods of growth and excellence where great things begin to happen and develop,” said Thoroughbred Chapter President Eric Hunstiger. “We have all the pieces in place to begin our path back to the international performance stage, perhaps as early as this year. If you are a guy who enjoys signing, now is the time to get involved.”
Southern Indiana residents will have a unique opportunity to attend a one-time show presented by the Thoroughbreds at the IU Southeast Ogle Center at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 23.
“We host an annual holiday show at the Memorial Auditorium in Louisville each December, but with a big part of our chorus living in Southern Indiana, we felt it was a good idea to create a summertime show to make it as convenient as possible for Southern Indiana residents to attend,” said Thoroughbred Director Drew Wheaton. “We have a number of people in Southern Indiana who have enjoyed our music for years. Plus, it never feels quite right singing ‘Back Home in Indiana’ in Kentucky.”
“Our goal in every performance is to entertain our audience with our music and in some cases to change lives,” Wheaton said. “Our guests always leave with a smile on their face. You won’t be disappointed.”
There are a limited number of tickets available for the one-time show. Tickets are $12 each. The 50-man chorus will perform a number of well-known arrangements, and there will be selections performed by various quartets. You can count on a few laughs as well.
Tickets can be purchased over the phone in advance by calling IUS at 812-941-2525 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.. Monday through Friday.
• This is the first installment of a two part series. Next we will examine the current make-up of the Thoroughbreds and the growing Southern Indiana involvement within the chorus.