Wednesday, July 23, 2014


How It All Began
72 Years Ago, It All Started with 26 Men on a Roof

   Some say it was an accident, some say it was fate. Either way (or perhaps both) the movement we now enjoy as the Barbershop Harmony Society (aka. Society for The Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA) can be credited to a meeting in Tulsa organized by Owen Clifton Cash on April 11, 1938.
   Cash was really only interested in getting a few guys together to sing. There was no grand plan, no grand scheme. He and acquaintance Rupert Hall had a chance meeting in Kansas City several weeks before and discussed forming a Song Fest. On his return to Tulsa, Cash drafted an invitation and mailed it to the 14 singers he knew might show up and encouraged them to bring guests.

   The Tulsa Club was a high class place and popular destination for special dinners, weddings and meetings. Special accommodations were made for the exclusive members, mostly rich Tulsa Oil men. Rupe was a member and arranged for the location. The management decided to place the “singers” on the roof (in open air - under the stars) so as to not disturb the clientele.
   Although closed for years and under threat of demolition, the 11-story Tulsa Club building still exists in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma and is located on the northwest corner of 5th and Cincinnati. Built in 1923, it’s across the street (due north) from the Stanolind Oil Building where Cash worked.
   It was a fine, warm spring day. OC Cash, Rupert Hall, Donnie O’Donovan, Elmer Lawyer and “Puny” Blevens were the first to arrive. Rupe went off to arrange for the food leaving the other four to ask, “What Are We Waiting For?” They decided to try to woodshed the song “Down Mobile”.

   Cash states that he had invited 14 men and 26 “crashed the party”. They sang and harmonized to some old songs for several hours with several breaking off into quartets as well.
   Apparently some Tulsa club members on the floors below complained of the “noise” so the next week, April 18, they met at the Hotel Tulsa (3rd and Cincinnati). 70 men showed up at this second meeting showing there was interest in this idea and maybe an early indication of the future growth.
   By the end of May, the newly formed group began meeting at the Alvin Plaza Hotel (7th and Main) and hosting 75 to 150 men each week. What would later be known as the Tulsa # 1 Chapter, would continue to meet at the Alvin for 37 years.

1938 Was a Very Good Year
How it All Began

   The family unit was still very musical in the late 1930s with pianos in most homes and singing (harmonizing), still a popular pastime. Many could still remember, first hand, enjoying the old vaudeville quartets and the professionals such as the Peerless Quartet from the turn of the century. The love of close harmony existed even though it was no longer the most popular music of the day.
   In 1938 men harmonizing together had not completely died out but it was becoming rarer and certainly much less popular than 30 years before.
   There were actually several different groups throughout the country who gathered and sang close harmony for pleasure. The Tulsans, a large city-wide classical and glee club chorus, was a popular outlet of the day. Many new Tulsa barbershoppers would come from this group.

   The movement we now enjoy as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. Inc.) can be credited to a meeting in Tulsa organized by Owen Clifton Cash.
   Cash was really only interested in getting a few guys together to sing. There was no grand plan, no grand scheme.
   He and acquaintance Rupert Hall had met in Kansas City by chance and discussed forming a group. On his return, Cash drafted an invitation and mailed it to the 14 singers they knew might show up and encouraged them to bring guests.

The Song Fest

   The date was set for Monday, April 11 at 6:30 PM. Hall, a member of the opulent, rich oil men’s Tulsa Club, had arranged for the meeting to be held on the Roof Garden (up on the roof - in open air - under the stars). The Tulsa Club still exists and is located on the northwest corner of 5th and Cincinnati. Built in 1923, it stands 11 stories tall. It’s across the street (due north) from the Stanolind Oil Building where Cash worked. 

   Closed for many years, it has escaped demolition many times. Its future is still in doubt.
   Twenty six men attended and harmonized. Apparently some Tulsa club members below complained of the “noise” so the next week, April 18, they met at the Hotel Tulsa (3rd and Cincinnati). Perhaps an early indication of future growth, 70 men showed up at the second meeting. By the end of May, the newly formed group began meeting at the Alvin Plaza Hotel (7th and Main) and hosting 75 to 150 men. What would later be known as the Tulsa # 1 Chapter, would continue to meet at the Alvin for 37 years.

   The popular joke is ... “There were 26 men who attended the FIRST meeting April 11, 1938 ... I’ve met 150 of them.”

Well Timed PR

   O.C. Cash was a master craftsman with the press. He would call his reporter friends at the Tulsa Tribune and the Tulsa World and give them such creative material about the new group, they couldn’t help but use it. The clever use of the initials SPEBSQSA (a humorous slap at President Roosevelt’s alphabetical agencies) was only the beginning.
   One such event was escalated into a “legal battle” via the press. A “reactionary group” had apparently sprung up and began calling itself S.P.C.D.A.D.P.O.F.L.T. (The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Dumb Animals, Dumb People, and Other Folk of Low Taste). It was reportedly backed, promoted, financed, and advised by the Chamber of Commerce. Their purpose was to consider legal action to “suppress, squelch, obliterate, eliminate, dehabilitate and otherwise bring about the non-existence of the harmless group of tenors, basses, and leads who enjoy their own singing once a month.”
   The group, claiming to be fair, agreed to hold off any legal action until after hearing the quartets sing at the Chambers’ May 13th meeting. The performance was predicted to be “just provocation for either mayhem or murder”.
   Cash also “publicly” invited Bing Crosby to attend a meeting. Bing wired his regrets and promised to dedicate a song on his next Kraft Music Hall radio show. Crosby and other VIPs were later named to the Society’s Board of Directors. There was also interest in forming a chapter in Hollywood.
   Early on it was discovered the group needed some reference for the songs they liked to sing. The biggest problem was ... remembering the words. An official songbook of lyrics was produced, and distributed to all members. It contained 161 songs, many of which have not survived the five decades. The book was quickly withdrawn from circulation when A.S.C.A.P. threatened legal action against the Society.

Call The Cops!

   The gathering of May 31st was possibly the most important single event in the history of the society. Sixty three singers met on the Mezzanine level of the Alvin. In the heat of the early summer night the windows were opened to the street.
   To understand this event one must also be aware of the concern of the police department with spontaneous groups on the streets even years after the panic of the race riots in downtown Tulsa in (1921).
   Reportedly, there was such a sound coming from the Alvin, passersby on the way home stopped to listen, and cars began to pull over. Such a commotion was caused, a rare traffic jam resulted. Apparently someone (some have rumored it was O.C.) called the cops. Ralph Martin, a reporter for the Daily World, followed a policeman upstairs to the singers’ songfest to discover the source of the “riot”. Even before the traffic jam was dispersed, Cash took Martin aside and began writing his story. The next morning, Martin’s “song-by-song” account of the disturbance appeared under the headline of... “No, No Folks - You’re Wrong! That Was Musical History In The Making!”. Cash had taken the liberty to embellish the truth just a bit. He had told Martin that the Chicago Tribune, the Associated Press, as well as Time Magazine had shown interest in the new group formed to preserve barbershop quartet singing.

   He told of friends in Kansas City, Oklahoma City, St. Louis and other towns forming similar groups. The story was so “unique” it was picked up by the Associated Press wire and ran in newspapers around the country the very next Sunday.
   Those Cash mentioned in the article were surprised to read the report and began to get calls from interested singers. Groups began to spring up all over the country.
. . The Society was born.
   The Society’s second chapter was formed in Kansas City. Cash and friends traveled by rail to install that group on June 18. On July 23rd Tulsa barbershoppers took the “Frisco” to Oklahoma City to install the officers of the newly chartered (July 6th) chapter. They attended The Texas League All-Star baseball game that night.


   Charters and memberships continued to be presented. There were no dues, rules, no officers, no headquarters but by the end of the year, eight chapters now including St. Louis, were meeting on a regular basis. Cash decided, if for no other reason than to get more PR, a major event was needed. A national quartet contest to pick “The World’s Champion Barber Shop Quartet” was to be held. Tulsa would be the site with contests being held on the stage at Central High School’s south auditorium.

   The dates were set for June 2 (Friday) and 3 (Saturday). The Hotel Tulsa would be the headquarters with a registration of $3 and an invitation to “MEN ONLY”.
   By Friday 150 delegates and nearly 50 quartets showed up representing ten states and seventeen cities. Competitors included the Flat Foot Four (Oklahoma City), The Maple City Four (Springfield, IL), Shell Quartet (Arkansas, KS), Topeka State Journal (Topeka, KS), The Industrial City Four (San Springs, OK), The Four Blue Notes (Tulsa), Jayhawkers from Topeka, and The Okie Four with Cash on Bari. The Bartlesville, Oklahoma Barflies won the contest, a trophy, and a $50 check (that’s $12.50 per man).
   Rapid and widespread growth had caught the Tulsa group by surprise. During the 1939 Convention a board meeting was held and our first slate of official officers were elected.
   It’s rumored that Rupert Hall returned from the men’s room to discover he had been elected the Society’s first President.
   O.C. Cash refused any position beyond his self appointed “Permanent Third Assistant Temporary Vice Chairman”.

   Against all odds, barbershopping is back. In 809 chapters in the U.S. and Canada, their organization, The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America, is almost 35,000 members strong. That's right, an army of sing-songy men with close-cropped beards, wearing styrofoam hats and candy-striped jackets. While this annual 4th of July event takes place in Kansas City this year, coming years will be held in Nashville, TN and Portland, OR.
   What to expect if you go? Well, a whole hell of a lot of singing, of course, impromptu harmonies in line for the urinal, on street corners in town and on stage, where 50 quartets and 25 choruses compete every year. There are also plenty of other shows, plus workshops, seminars and clinics. If you're lucky, honorary member Dick Van Dyke will show up with his quartet to do several numbers. But event organizer Reed Sampson says, "The most wonderful thing you will witness is the diversity of our members, men or all ages from 9 - 90, occupations and ethnic origins, the common thread being the love of four-part, a cappella singing." Just mention of songs like "Coney Island Baby," "Sweet Adeline" and "Heart of my Heart" to a barbershopper and he'll weep tears of joy. Admission price is $85 for adults and $42.50 for children under twelve.


   There is no shortage of haunted houses in America, but perhaps America's most famous house, the one that resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House.  The White House was built near the end of the 18th Century, and today it's composed of 6 stories of 132 rooms and 412 doors.  With so many rooms, is it any wonder that some of them are haunted by past presidents and first ladies alike?  The more doors in a house, the more of a chance some of them might open and close on their own.  But who is haunting the executive mansion and playing havoc on our senses of reality?  Most obvious of all, past presidents and their wives are the most frequent haunters of the White House and for some of them their haunting are more memorable than their tenures in office.

William Henry Harrison

    William Henry Harrison's presidency lasted less than 32 days back in 1841, yet his ghost can still be heard, rummaging through the White House attic, 168 years later.  Harrison was the first President  to die while in office, of pneumonia on April 4, 1841.  Had he known his presidency would've been so short, William Henry Harrison probably wouldn't have spent two precious hours of it reading his 8,000 word inaugural address.  But then again, maybe that's what he's been spending the last 168 years rummaging through the White House attic looking for.

Andrew Jackson
   Andrew Jackson was an abrasive fellow, and he was elected the 7th President of the United States in 1828.  His toughness earned him the nickname "Old Hickory", so it should come as no surprise to most that death alone couldn't drive him from the White House.  In the Rose Bedroom where he used to sleep, White House staff have heard a hearty laughter like Jackson was said to have.  Mary Todd Lincoln used to hear cursing from Old Hickory's ghost, and an aid to Lyndon Johnson heard the same sort of yelling in the Rose Bedroom in 1964.  Others have heard Jackson stomping around the White House floors in his heavy boots down the halls.  Clearly Mr. Jackson was never a quiet fellow, not even in death. 

Abraham Lincoln

   Abraham Lincoln served the people during the country's most threatening time to the Union-The Civil War.  But America's turmoils were not the only thing haunting Mr. Lincoln in his life.  In 1862, Lincoln lost his 11 year old son, Willie, to typhoid fever.  Abe and his wife Mary often held se'ances in the Green Room to contact Willie's spirit, successfully.  Willie Lincoln is also said to have communicated directly with the Ulysses Grant administration.  But Willie's father has been a much more active spirit within the walls of the White House.
   Abe Lincoln is said to have dreamed of his own death.  He told Mary Todd that he saw his own assassination three days before he was shot by John Wilkes Booth in 1865.  Since that fateful day, the ghost of Lincoln has been seen at the White House more frequently than some of our more recent vacation loving presidents. 
   Calvin Coolidge's wife, Grace, was the first person to spot Lincoln's ghost standing in a window in the Oval Office, and he reappeared to her repeatedly.  FDR's valet was so spooked by the ghost of Abe that he ran from the White House screaming.  President Harrison's bodyguard once took matters into his own hands when he attended a se'ance to plead with Lincoln to quiet down and let him sleep at night.  Ladybird Johnson, wife of Lyndon, saw Abe while she was watching television.  Ronald Reagan's daughter and son-in-law both witnessed Lincoln standing next to the fireplace in the Lincoln bedroom.  Lincoln's ghost has been blamed for cold and icy spots in various rooms, as well as turning back on chandelier light after they'd been shut off.  Lincoln's ghost has appeared to both Winston Churchill and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.  In Churchill's case, Lincoln was leaning against the mantle of the fireplace as the nude prime minister exited the bathroom.  Lincoln slowly faded away, but Churchill's embarrassment did not.  He refused to sleep there again.  Queen Wilhemina, fortunately, was clothed when she spotted Lincoln's ghost.  One night as she stayed in the Lincoln bedroom, she was awoken with a knock at the door.  She opened the door to Lincoln's ghost and promptly fainted.  With his many sightings, Lincoln's ghost, like Lincoln himself, seems an introspective and trouble soul.

Dolley Madison
   Dolley Madison, wife of  4th President James Madison, frequently showed herself during the administration of Woodrow Wilson, 100 years after she lived there.  Dolley was first lady from 1809-1817.  Dolley's favorite place to haunt is the Rose Garden, which she planted a century earlier.  Perhaps she felt as if she were protecting the garden after Woodrow's wife ordered for the garden to be dug up.  Workmen kept seeing Dolley, and orders to dig up the garden were buried.  The Rose Garden exists unharmed to this day. 

Abigail Adams

   Abigail Adams, wife of 2nd President (and 1st President to live in the White House) John Adams.  Because the White House wasn't fully complete when the Adams family moved in, the inadequate heating created a problem for drying laundry in an age before washers and driers.  Perhaps this is why the ghost of Abigail Adams can sometimes be seen in the East Room on the first floor, which was the warmest and driest room in the White House.  There were numerous sightings of her during the Taft administration.  Often she was seen with her arms outstretched, just as if she were carrying a load of laundry.

Frances Cleveland

   Her cries can be heard coming from a second floor bedroom.  In 1891 Frances became the first First Lady to give birth in the White House, to a daughter named Ruth.
   Whether or not these ex-presidents and first ladies still really roam the halls and haunt the rooms of the White House, it's clear that something about them remains.  Perhaps they're just memories materializing into celestial visions of great leaders forever trapped in our subconscious.  Or perhaps they really never leave office, one we elect them and trust them with the most important job on earth.  Either way, the White House doesn't seem destined to ever rest in peace.