A Note From Your District Historian
Greetings friends of the Illinois District! I can’t believe that 2021 is quickly coming to an end! We had a great fall convention and it was nice to see members again after the recent pandemic postponed last year’s event. I am excited to offer more “gems” from the vault, including a rare radio broadcast recording of our 3rd district contest in 1946, which features our new champs that year – The Mid-States Four, celebrating 75 years of their championship! Also included in this issue is a biography of the consummate quartet legend Jack Baird, a tribute to our 1988 district champs, and highlighting one of the youngest youth quartets ever to sing in the district. A big “thank you” goes out to fellow committee members Bob Squires and Frank Fabian, as well as (once and always) champs Steve Coon and Doug Brooks for their contributions to the information in this issue. As the holidays approach, it reminds me of how thankful I am to be a part of an organization of caring and supportive folks. I hope everyone has a great holiday season with their families and I’ll see you back in 2022 with more gems “From the Vault”!
Jack Baird joined the Barbershop Harmony Society and the Omaha, Nebraska chapter in the fall of 1948. He sang baritone with his first quartet, The Melody Mugs, in four contests before moving to Chicago in 1951. Once in the Illinois District, he quickly joined the Q-Suburban Chapter and sang with several pick-up quartets. In 1953, Jack transferred to the Southtown Chapter. In 1956, as District Vice-President, Jack helped the Palos Chapter survive by re-organizing it into the Southwest Suburban Chapter and moving it to Oak Lawn.
Jack sang baritone in the Barbersharps quartet for sixteen years through sixteen changes in personnel. The quartet took top honors, winning the district championship in 1966. The quartet competed in three International contests, and made the top twenty in 1968. The Barbersharps also participated in USO shows, appearing in the Philippines during the late 1960s. After that quartet disbanded, Jack stayed active in quartet singing, and formed the Close Harmony Committee, which won the district championship in 1972. Jack sang in every contest throughout the 1970s, and most during the decades that followed, having competed nearly 50 times! In fact, Jack holds the record for the most consecutive quartet appearances in contest. He was never that concerned with where he finished, just as long as he could be there.
Jack was basically a quartet man but realized the necessity of having a chorus to develop the singers for his quartets. He developed the Four Star Barbershopper Program long before the Society promoted the Barber Polecat Program. It was designed to start out simple and progress to the more challenging songs. He held every office in chapter leadership except treasurer and won numerous awards, including Chapter Barbershopper of the Year, Award for Barbershop Excellence (ABE) in 1966 and the QCA’s Music Man Award in 1995.
Jack wrote a regular column for the Attacks and Releases entitled, “Preserving and Encouraging” for 12 years. He was a frequent educator at district IDAH schools as well as Harmony College. He also served as the district historian in the 1980s and was instrumental in compiling information regarding the early years of the Illinois District during the Society’s fiftieth anniversary. In addition, Jack had a collection of nearly 1,000 old recordings, many from the 1920s and earlier. He spent years gathering them and transferring them to MP3s. He took all of the Society’s 78rpm quartet record collection and digitized them as well.
Perhaps Jack’s biggest contribution to the barbershop world was his arrangements. Since the 1950s, he took credit for many published and unpublished arrangements, including “South Rampart Street Parade” for The Confederates (1956 Int’l Champs), and “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” for The Four Renegades (1965 Int’l Champs). His favorite arrangements were of the Dixieland Jazz genre. Several of his arrangements have been recorded by International Medalists and also were included in the Society’s seven folios, including “The Heritage of Harmony Songbook.” Jack also shared his talents by serving as an Arrangement judge for the entire 22-year run of that particular judging category, served as Category Specialist, and judged contests in all the districts.
Jack Baird passed away in 2010. He was the consummate quartet singer who gave tirelessly to his chapter, district, and the Society. In May of 1993, Jack was interviewed by Society historian Grady Kerr. During that interview, Jack stated, “In my opinion, there is no higher aim than singing in a quartet…I don’t think guys really understand and realize how much fun they can have singing in a quartet until they have experienced it.”
Spoken like a true quartet man.
Four Star Revue
From L to R – Doug Brooks, Drayton Justus, Vern Knapp, John Muir
This issue’s spotlight is on our 1988 District Champs, Four Star Revue. By the time of their championship, the members were already well-known around the district. Singing tenor was Doug Brooks, one fourth of the famous (or infamous?) comedy quartet, The Brooks Brothers and current director of the Belleville chapter. Brooks and his twin brother Dave were both living in Springfield at the time, but both had dual memberships with the Champaign-Urbana chapter (located just 40 or so miles north of their hometown of Charleston, IL). Baritone John Muir was the director of the C-U Illini Statesmen and bass singer Vern Knapp also sang in the chapter. John and Vern had sung together previously in the 1983 district championship foursome At Ease. When International Champion quartet lead singer Drayton Justus moved to Charleston to take a position at Eastern Illinois University in the mid-1980s, he soon took a membership with the Coles County chapter. Justus had won International Gold with the 1971 International Champs, Gentlemen’s Agreement and later served as the replacement lead for Bob Franklin in the legendary Suntones. Drayton was looking for three other guys to sing with and Brooks, Knapp, and Muir jumped at the chance to sing with Justus. According to Brooks, “it was the thrill of a lifetime to sing with one of my barbershop heroes.” The quartet won top district honors in 1988 and even competed once on the International stage. They received quality coaching, due largely in part to Drayton’s connections. Brooks remembers getting a chance to coach with the legendary Lyle Pilcher, who worked with such quartets as Drayton’s GA as well as The Four Renegades. Eventually, Vern had to depart from the quartet, and for a short time, was replaced by Andy Isbell (bass of the 1992 district champs Fascinatin Rhythm and 2014 district champs Drive Time.) Unfortunately, the quartet did not remain intact very long, as Drayton moved to West Virginia to complete a PhD in Education from West Virginia University. The Illinois District salutes our 1988 Champs – FOUR STAR REVUE!
Four Star Revue sings “It’s a Most Unusual Day” during their set at the Fall 1989 District Convention President’s Reception as they retire as district champs.
In 1960, the Illinois District welcomed a new chapter among its ranks. Made up of firefighters from the Windy City, the chapter was chartered in the spring of that year and made its district debut on May 21 at the Medinah Temple on Wabash Ave. The chorus of approximately 25 men was joined on the show with various quartets, including the Gay Nineties, Sweet & Lows – a Sweet Adeline quartet, and Double Daters – a mixed quartet. Unfortunately, longevity was not in the cards, as the chapter only lasted a little over two years before it folded.
This issue’s featured artifact is a 75 year old radio broadcast recording of the district contest. Included in this excerpt is a brief interview with Frank Thorne, as well as the top three quartets – The Ft. Dearborn Four (3rd place), The Smeet Brothers (2nd place), and our 1946 district champs, The Mid-States Four. Enjoy!
L to R – George Kledzik (Tenor), Marty Mendro (Lead), Forrey Haynes (Baritone), Bob Corbett (Bass)
(Click images to enlarge.)
The Candy Shop 4
The Candy Shop 4 was possibly one of the earliest (and maybe the youngest!) youth quartets to ever grace the Illinois District. The quartet consisted of tenor Steve Fairbanks (age 5), lead Steve Coon (age 6), baritone Keith Hillegonds (age 6), and bass Gary Spade (age 10). All four boys lived in Calumet Park, IL and were a part of a 100-member community youth choir under the direction of Ray Fairbanks, an employee of the telephone company and father of the tenor. According to lead Steve Coon, the foursome practiced almost every Saturday morning in the basement of the Fairbanks home. The quartet sang for nearly six years from about 1957-1963 until bass Gary Spade moved away. During their time together, the boys became the Illinois District version of the Osmond Brothers, and were a huge hit locally, appearing on numerous community shows, barbershop chapter shows (including a memorable one with Jack Baird’s Barbersharps), and even an appearance on The Steve Allen Show. Steve Coon was hooked on barbershop ever since, and later joined the Oak Lawn Chapter. Coon also sang tenor with the 1993 district champs, Echo Lane. He currently lives in Texas, but still sings barbershop after all these years!