Lancaster Red Rose Chorus HISTORY
The Lancaster Red Rose Chorus was chartered in 1949.
by DICK ASHBY (an original charter member)
Since 1984 marks the 35th anniversary of the chartering of the RED ROSE CHAPTER, and since I’m the only active charter member, Lee Davis asked me to search back in my memory and jot down a few remembrances of those early days of the chapter’s history. Remembering is not one of my long suits, but I’ll try my best to give you a feel for how it was “back in the good old days”.
The two guiding lights in the organization of our chapter were John Neimer and Dick Bisalski, whom some of you old timers remember, I’m sure. How they contacted the national SPEBSQSA headquarters, I’m not sure. But I suspect it was through the York Chapter which had been chartered a few years before, and which in turn was our sponsoring chapter. These two gentlemen sent letters to as many men in the area they knew who were interested in singing. They also wrote an article for the newspaper announcing a meeting to be held for all men who were interested in singing four part harmony in the barbershop style. The meeting was held at Hensel Hall on the campus of F & M College and I suspect there were 100 to 150 men present. The York Chapter officers and their chorus were on stage along with a representative from national headquarters whose name escapes me, but as I remember they called him “Tex”. He was a very enthusiastic guy and stirred up our interest in the advantages of becoming members in the Society. The York Chapter gave us an example of the singing style and to make a long story short, after several more organizational meetings we were ready to be chartered in the Society as a new chapter.
Charter night, I think, was in January or February of 1949 and it was held at the Armstrong Cork Co. Auditorium. I’m not sure, but I think there were in the neighborhood of 50 men listed on the charter. I don’t recall too much about the activities that night, but I know our first director was Charlie Kinports from York. Charlie was the chorus director of York, Harrisburg, and Lancaster at the same time. This proved to be too much for his health and he had a nervous breakdown and had to give up all barbershopping. Incidentally, Charlie died this past year around Easter time. It was real sad for me as I recalled all the good times we had spent together. I lost a good friend, and barbershopping lost a fantastic woodshedder.
Lou Jennings took over the reigns as chorus director and as lead in one of Lancaster’s first quartets, the Lancastrians. Yours truly was the tenor and Dick Bisalski was the bari, with Dick Carr singing bass. We sang together for a number of years until both Lou and I had to give up due to changes in working schedules. I guess our most memorable experience was singing on the Pottsville show where the headline quartet was the Buffalo Bills.
Back in those early days, our annual shows were called “Parade of Quartets”. It was our custom to engage at least three and sometimes four outside quartets in addition to any local quartets that were available at the time. In most cases that was two. The chorus usually opened the show with two or three numbers and closed the show with a couple of more. The balance of the show was taken over by the quartets.
One unusual show comes to mind as I recall those early days. I’m not sure if it was our very first one, but it was one of our first, at any rate. We had engaged the Garden State Quartet from New Jersey, who were International champs years before, and the Westinghouse Quartet from Pittsburgh, with that incomparable funny man and fabulous song leader, Tom O’Malley singing lead, and the Columbians from Washington DC. They had a good lead singer, Billie Ball, whom many of you quartet competitors will recognize as a fine judge of international caliber. The show was scheduled for a Saturday night in mid-November at McCaskey High School auditorium. As fate would have it, on the Friday night preceding the show we had a tremendous snow storm which wreaked havoc with our plans. In those days, most quartets traveled to shows by car, and both the Garden State Quartet and the Westinghouse Quartet were forced to cancel out, informing us on Saturday morning. It was too late to cancel the show, so we decided to carry on in the best traditions of show business. As they say, “The show must go on!”. Fortunately, the Columbians were able to go through and between their singing every song they knew and the Lancastrians doing the same, along with a great assist from the chorus, we got through in grand style. The audience was given the option of getting their money back or taking their chances with what we had. Fortunately, they all decided to stay. The Columbians were fantastic and they wound up their part of the show singing “Sam, the Old Accordion Man”, and the audience loved it so much they called them back to sing it again! It was truly a great night!
Many fine quartets paraded across our stage back in those days. Some of our favorites were the Yorkaires from York with Greg Eck (our own Dick Eck’s brother) singing tenor; the Volunteers from Baltimore with the incomparable Danny Culthbert singing lead; the Chordbusters from Allentown who brought the house down every time they came with their rendition of the quartet from “Rigeletto”.
Barbershopping has changed over the years…the singing gets better…the production gets more elaborate…but the basic elements will never change. Harmony, good fellowship with the greatest guys in the world and the satisfaction of seeing your audience have a good time. These things never change, so stick with it fellows and I guarantee that you’ll have some of the best experiences you will ever have in your lifetime.
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