Greetings friends of the Illinois District! As we settle into the fall, I think back to a wonderful convention we had last in Bloomington in September. It was great to hold a convention again, this time without the masks! It felt more like normal and getting to hear quartets singing in hospitality rooms again was wonderful.
In this issue, we look back to a district and Society pioneer with a familiar name, celebrate a very popular district quartet from the early 1980s, spotlight a youth quartet that traveled around the world in the 1950s, feature a former district barbershopper who appeared on a famous television programme, and showcase one of the rarest pieces of barbershop memorabilia ever to be seen across the Society that is actually housed in our archives!
As always, I thank my predecessor Bob Squires, and fellow committee member Joe Sullivan, for their inexhaustible knowledge of district history and for helping me fill in gaps for stories. I also thank Doug Smith for providing me valuable information for this issue. I hope you enjoy it and look forward to seeing you in 2023!
Illinois District Historian
(Adapted from the Illinois District Archives – Early District History)
Barbershoppers who have attended (or competed in) a district or international contest have likely heard the name “Frank Thorne” mentioned at some point during the competition. While most barbershoppers only know that name as a “chapter-at-large” whose individuals are not affiliated with a regular chapter, few know the story of the namesake – a true pioneer in the Illinois District, and whose legacy spans the entire Society to this day.
Frank Thorne came into the Society in 1941 when it was just three years old and when the Chicago #1 chapter was in its struggling second year. Like many other men in their forties and fifties at that time who were hungry for harmony, he could hardly believe that such a unique organization existed. But he took the word of his old friend Maurice E. “Molly” Reagan of Pittsburgh (who introduced Frank to barbershop harmony in 1912) that the Society could provide the harmony opportunities that Thorne had missed sorely since his graduation from the University of Illinois in 1915.
Characteristically enthusiastic and with a desire to be connected only with success, Thorne made his force felt early in the Chicago Chapter where he was one of the early chorus directors and active in getting Society representation into the great local Music Festival. He was elected to the International board in 1941, was a vice-president from 1943-45, and was elected president in 1946.
Thorne wanted to have a championship quartet more than anything else. He would invite prospective singers to dinner and audition them for dessert. One young man, Roy Frisby, who was trying to sell Frank on his bank’s services, made the best impression on lead and soon joined Herman Struble, tenor; Jimmy Doyle, baritone; and Frank singing bass. They became known as The Elastic Four and, after just six weeks of rehearsals, traveled to Grand Rapids for the 1942 National Contest and won the championship singing Frank’s special arrangements.
The Elastic Four set a new standard for Society quartets, devoting much of their time organizing new chapters and donating their services to “advance the cause.” Their 1942 records, from which all royalties went to the Society, have become classics in the early arrangement style for quartets.
When Thorne became president, he shared with the Society the executive talent he had long demonstrated in business. After the first World War in which he was a first sergeant in Artillery, he followed his profession as a landscape architect and helped lay out the famous Olympia Fields golf course in Chicago. But soon he went into sales work which took him out of Chicago to Grand Rapids, then Cleveland and returned him to Chicago to become National’s Sales Manager. At the time of his death Frank was vice-chairman of the board of NALCO and chairman of the board of VISCO Products, a chemical company in Houston, Texas.
As president of the Society, Thorne had an unusual grasp of chapter conditions through his work on various committees and by first-hand contacts as bass of the The Elastic Four, who criss-crossed the country many times during and after their championship year. Frank Thorne utilized proven business principles in administering the Society’s affairs through twenty committees demanded by the organization, including Song Arrangements. The greatest numerical expansion was during Thorne’s term when the Society burst out of its seams, adding 122 chapters in a single year! His singing and arranging overshadowed the fact that he had a variety of musical interests, playing the violin, baritone horn, piano, mandolin, cornet, accordion, and guitar.
Frank Thorne passed away at the age of 65 in his home in Riverside, Illinois on the night of October 26, 1956, but his accomplishments live on. Those accomplishments come to light each time an emcee at a contest says, “…representing the Frank Thorne Chapter…”
Friends during one of their many performances – From L to R: Rick Anthoney (tenor), Dick Kingdon (lead), Doug Smith (bass), and Mark Keever (bari)
This issue’s QCA Spotlight examines one of the most popular quartets in Illinois District history. Appropriately named, Friends took top honors in district championship back in 1980, representing the Elgin and Lombard chapters.
The story of this quartet really goes back six years earlier, when the Arlington Heights, Lombard, and Elgin chapters held a joint event in 1974. Attending that event was Doug Smith, who had sung previously with The Sundowners (See FTV – Winter 2022 Issue) and was looking for a new quartet. In a conversation with legendary quartet man Buzz Haeger of The Four Renegades, Haeger suggested a tenor named Rick Anthoney, who had recently joined the Lombard chapter. Over the next couple of years, Rick and Doug sang together in three different quartets – The Corkers (1974-75), Saturday’s Heroes (1975-76), and Chicago Express (1977-79).
Despite the success of Chicago Express, job issues and differing priorities among the members caused the quartet to disband. Rick and Doug still wanted to sing together and looked for two others. Each of them knew guys that would fit the bill. Dick Kingdon, who had moved to Illinois from South Dakota and knew Rick through the Lombard chapter, was an up-and-coming lead, singing with The Grove Music Company. Doug was good friends with South Cook Chapter member Mark Keever, who had placed high in district competition with his quartets, and got to know Doug by following The Sundowners at their shows.
The quartet entered the district competition in the spring of 1980 and qualified to go to Salt Lake City that summer. Through Doug’s connection, the group was coached by the legendary Lyle Pilcher (See FTV – Spring 2022 Issue). The quartet placed 12th at the International Competition and easily won district honors the following fall.
Over the next two years, the group performed in numerous shows in both Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as qualified for International competitions held in Detroit (‘81) and Pittsburgh (‘82). A 13th place finish followed by a 15th place finish the next year caused the quartet to reevaluate whether to continue, and it was decided to end their brief, but exciting run.
Dick went on to sing with The Chiefs of Staff, with whom he received a gold medal in 1988. Mark, Doug, and Rick went on to sing in numerous district champion quartets. The group reunited often at conventions, usually singing on QCA shows. Their final appearance on the district stage was in the fall of 2017, when they competed as a district seniors quartet and won, earning the right to represent Illinois at the 2018 Midwinter Convention held in Orange County, California.
Sadly, Rick Anthoney died in 2019. The remaining three are still active in barbershopping – Dick sings with a seniors champion quartet, Take Note, Mark sings with the Ambassadors of Harmony Chorus in St. Charles, MO, and Doug directs the Elgin Chapter. We salute our “friends” – the 1980 (Once and Always) District Champions!
Friends as they appeared as District Seniors Champs in their last competition on the district stage – Fall, 2017.
Friends as they appeared when singing their Irish songs, which included a favorite – “At the End of a Cobblestone Road”
For fans of the 1980s TV hit, “Cheers”, the character of Norm Peterson (played by Chicago native George Wendt) provided the best one-liners, usually at the beginning of episodes as his entrance to the bar was accompanied by a collective shout of “NORM!” from the patrons. But did you know that one particular episode includes a connection to barbershopping in Illinois?
Season 4’s episode “Dark Imaginings” begins with the entrance of a barbershop quartet – in reality, the 139th St. Quartet from California. The lead of the group is none other than Larry Wright, a former Illinois barbershopper and lead of the popular ’60s quartet from the ILL District, The Sundowners. (See Winter 2022 Issue.) In the episode, an argument ensues among the foursome and bass singer Jim Kline (who later earned a gold with Gotcha!), walks off. Norm decides to fill in for a song, which provided one of the funniest openings in the show’s long run.
The opening of “Cheers” featuring Larry Wright and the 139th St. Quartet. Airdate: Feb. 20, 1986
The 139th St. Quartet with former ILL District champion Larry Wright on lead (at top).
This issue’s featured artifact is a true treasure within our archives. It is a program booklet from the 4th annual show of the Chicago #1 Chapter, held at the Medinah Temple on Friday, November 7, 1947. The show featured the best of the best from the early years of the Society. Included in the line-up were the current district champions, The Big Towners, along with the current International Champions, The Doctors of Harmony. But if that wasn’t enough, the show also featured past International Champions The Elastic Four (’42), The Four Harmonizers (’43), The Misfits (’45), and soon-to-be International Champs – The Mid-States Four (’49).
Talk about an all-star lineup! That alone would make this artifact a keeper. But the most awesome part about this piece is that it was autographed by EVERY quartet man that crossed the stage that evening! It is truly one of the rarest pieces of barbershop history to be found anywhere.
(Click image to enlarge.)
(adapted from the December, 1957 edition of the Harmonizer)
This issue spotlights a popular youth quartet from the 1950s, The Lancers. The group was made up of four high school students from Maywood, IL: Tenor Rick Wilson, Lead Frank “Shorty” Williams, Baritone Phil Schwarz, and Bass Otto Karbusicky. The boys got their first taste of barbershop in 1953 when Murph Johnson (past president and past secretary of the Pioneer Chapter) took them as his guests to his chapter’s Spring Song Fest that year. The Pioneer Chapter encouraged the quartet, and they all joined the chapter. They received as high as second place medalist status in district competition and even represented the Illinois District at the International Contest in Washington D.C. in 1954.
Three of the boys graduated from high school and enrolled in Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. So that the quartet could be kept intact, the fourth member finished his high school education in Cedar Rapids. They all enlisted in the Air Force, and renamed themselves Air Chords. Entering the Air Force quartet contest, the foursome easily won the championship.
In 1957, the boys embarked on an eight month tour performing over 300 shows and logging over 40,000 miles which included the southeast part of the United States, as well as Greenland, England, Scotland, Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Africa, and Bermuda. They later toured and performed in Formosa and the Middle East.
Sadly, Otto Karbusicky was killed in a fire accident at his residence in the early 1960s. Rick Wilson and Phil Schwarz later went on to sing with Ray Henders and Thom Hine in The Midnight Oilers.
The accomplishments and extensive performances of The Lancers remain unmatched in the history of Illinois district youth quartets. These young ambassadors truly represented Illinois well around the world during the “golden age” of barbershop.
From L to R: Rick Wilson, Frank Williams, Phil Schwarz, Otto Karbusicky