Barber cheer: Singers aim to keep slice of Americana alive
BY FRANK VAISVILAS Correspondent August 13, 2013 10:16PM
Updated: September 15, 2013 6:34AM
Their singing voices remind some listeners of a time long past, when four men would walk into a barbershop and perform songs such as “In the Still of the Night” a cappella.
But part of the mission of the Knights of Harmony chorus is to preserve the barbershop-quartet style of music for future generations.
“Part of what we do is educate younger people,” said Rich Davidson, 71, a baritone in the chorus. “We’re showing them a historical style of music.”
Among their performance venues are baseball games — another American pastime. The Knights of Harmony are scheduled to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Wednesday before the Windy City ThunderBolts’ baseball game at Standard Bank Stadium, 14011 S. Kenton Ave., Crestwood. Game time is 7:05 p.m.
The group also occasionally performs during White Sox games at U.S. Cellular Field. But the chorus mostly performs for veterans groups, church congregations and senior citizens who live at care facilities.
“The joy ... especially when singing in senior homes where people are shut-ins, and seeing people smiling, some with tears in their eyes because (the music) touched their heart — we’re blessed from that alone and that keeps us singing,” said Lou Gonzalez, 74, president of the Knights of Harmony. “For me, it’s a gift from God that we should share with others.”
The chorus is the Will-Cook chapter of the Society for Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America, which says it has 25,000 members nationwide. But the popularity of the music style has waned over the decades.
The Knights of Harmony were formed in 2010 when two chapters combined — the Blackhawks from Joliet and the Singing Men of Note from south Cook County.
Davidson said the Blackhawks performed with as many as 150 men at the Rialto Square Theater in 1950. He said membership dropped to 55 men in 1968 and would sometimes fall to about 30.
Knights of Harmony currently has about 47 members from the Joliet area and the south suburbs.
Of the nearly 20 men who were rehearsing in Lockport recently, most were of retirement age, but a few were younger. But chorus members believe it’s important to preserve barbershop quartet-style singing because it’s part of American culture and it’s recognized throughout the world.
Gonzalez said groups from several countries compete at the society’s annual competition. Last year’s winners were from Sweden.
He said many of the performers can’t even speak English but they have to sing in English and they do it perfectly.
The society focuses on keeping the art form alive through its affiliated youth organizations. And the ladies aren’t left out, thanks to a musical alliance with Sweet Adelines International.
Bill Kershbaum, 72, director of the Knights of Harmony chorus, said both his wife and his daughter perform with the Sweet Adelines as the family shares a passion for the barbershop-quartet style.
“There is no sound in the music as good as a barbershop B-flat chord,” Kershbaum said. “Once you hear it, you just want to hear more.”