Chord Busters

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Chord Busters
The Chord Busters is the Barbershop Harmony Society's 1941 International Quartet Champion.

The 1941 national champions were organized in Tulsa, OK in the spring of 1940 with Virgil Dow, tenor; Bob Holbrook, lead; Bobby Greer, baritone; and Tom Masengale, bass. The next year, Norman T. "Doc" Enmeier replaced Dow, who had moved to another city.

The quartet set a goal of placing high in the SPEBSQSA national quartet contest. To meet that goal, they met on an average of four nights per week, singing from three to five hours per night.

At the 1941 contest in St. Louis, after two afternoons of elimination, eleven quartets were selected to face the audience on the night of July 5. When the final scores were totaled, the Chord Busters were selected as national champions.

The Chord Busters were invited to compete again in 1942 but declined. They agreed to attend the convention in Grand Rapids as non-competitors to receive recognition as champions and "sing up a storm" in hotel lobbies.

They firmly established a tradition for, since that time, a quartet champion, once crowned, was never to compete again and therefore, was never to be dethroned.


Quartet Members

Winning Members:

  • Tenor: Norman T. Enmier
  • Lead: Bob Holbrook
  • Bass: Tom Masengale
  • Bari: Bobby Greer

Former Members:

  • Tenor: Virgil Dow

Competition History

Internationals:

  • 1941 1st

Districts:

Recordings

Extended History

Chord Busters
written and researched by Grady Kerr
taken from Golden Memories - The History of the Southwestern District - pub 1996


The Chord Busters were one of the most innovative quartets in our Society's history with several of their landmark decisions becoming standard for today's foursomes. The quartet consisted of Doc Enmeier as tenor, Bob Holbrook singing lead, Bobbie Greer on baritone, and Tom Masengale on bass. Since then, the tradition of crowning our champions has taken on much greater significance.

Much of the credit for that increased respect can be given to these four men. It was in early 1940 that a joint meeting of the new barbershop quartet group and the Tulsans was held at the Hotel Tulsa. The Tulsans were a 100 voiced, nationally known, semi pro, male chorus who sang mostly classical and glee club style music. Tom, Bob, Bobbie, and tenor Virgil Dow were so impressed by the harmonies displayed by the barbershop group and a quartet called the Barflies, they formed their own quartet and joined the barbershop group. For a living, Doc became one of the leading dentists in Tulsa, Greer worked several professions (Allied Steel, The Choteha Powder Plant, Photography, Broadcast Radio, Insurance), Holbrook also worked for the powder plant as well as the City of Tulsa, and Tom would go on to retire after 44 years at Texaco.

The name, Chord Busters was chosen and they began rehearsing in earnest. They caught the attention of many Tulsa chapter members and were encouraged to enter the upcoming Oklahoma State quartet contest where they could win and win an all expense trip to the national contest held in conjunction with the New York's World Fair.

The Chord Busters worked up some songs and entered the state competition. In the contest they had to follow a group of policemen from Oklahoma City called the Flat Foot Four. That group would not only win this contest, but go on to win the 1940 national contest in New York.

The "Busters" selected a number by Geoffrey O'Hara entitled A Little Close Harmony for one of their numbers (the intro of which is now the society's opener, The Old Songs). The arrangement and full song is non-barbershop and they were abruptly disqualified from the contest. This would be the only contest in which they would not place first.

Soon after the contest they lost tenor Virgil Dow to love (choosing hugs over harmony). It wasn't long after that as members of the Tulsans, Tom, Bob, and Bobbie were working as ushers for a symphony concert at Skelly Stadium. Once the concert got underway, they ran into tenor Norman Enmeier in the men's room. He had also competed in a quartet at the state contest but his group broke up soon afterwards. Having four parts, they began singing.

The sound was exciting and there was a seasoned, natural blend from the very first chord. Not deterred by the symphony goers telling them to quiet down, the Chord Busters were reborn.

Tulsa chapter members were also impressed by the new sound and many helped. They were encouraged by Cash, Granger, O.P. Erickson, Puny Blevens, Hank Wright, Bob Chase as well as the Barflies and even the Flat Foot Four.

One of the keys to their early success was the input of Wade Hamilton. Wade was the staff musician of radio station KTUL and organist for the Ritz Theater. His talent included being able to arrange for male voices taking advantage of individual qualities and ranges. His arrangement of I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen was their most requested song.

At the time, most quartets didn't use ANY arrangements. They just sang it, feeling for each chord, not necessarily singing it the same way twice. These custom arrangements set the Chord Busters apart early.

Wade was also a "slave driver". The quartet credits his "driving" them to always work harder as a important fundamental of the quartet's accomplishments.

The Chord Busters sang on Wade's weekly radio show in Okmulgee for 13 weeks promoting his piano course. They sang six numbers each week and went ten weeks without repeating a song. They were pressured to learn 'em fast. This discipline helped "tune" the quartet and also prepared them for future challenges.

After about a year, Wade moved to California and the guys turned to another local talented musician, Lem Childers. He was a classic pianist, composer, piano teacher and lover of all kinds of music - he was also nearly totally blind. Lem studied barbershop and enjoyed the style. He agreed to teach, coach, and arrange for the quartet and picked up where Wade left off. He keep them in line, musically.

One night Bobbie suggested they try putting bell chords in Bye Bye Blues. It took them a few months to work it out. They then sang it for Lem who put the finishing touches on it. It proved so popular, it later surfaced as a contest number for the Gaynotes in 1958, and the Suntones in 1961.

The Chord Busters were the first quartet to "get shirts alike". Although the Barflies often wore "barber" outfits and of course the Flat Foot Four had their uniforms, The Chord Busters felt a quartet's regular "attire" would add to their performance.

Among their many outfits the most popular were their satin western shirts, each with a different solid color, and cowboy hats and boots, etc. It was very impressive and it didn't take long for other foursomes to copy the idea.

In the year after being disqualified, the Chord Busters worked very hard. They sometimes met as many as five nights a week for up to five hours a night. The work was also lots of fun and very satisfying.

By the time they entered the regional contest in Bartlesviile they were ready and won. Their prize? They took home twelve silver dollars (yep, that's three each). They also easily won the 1941 Oklahoma State contest that followed and as winner, received their expenses to the National Contest in St. Louis.

Going to St Louis by train was an event. Everyone from Tulsa went and to say there was a party atmosphere would be an understatement. The press was also on hand. But the Chord Busters knew they had a job to do and were ready. Unlike today, there were five elimination rounds (of 10 quartets) with the top three quartets from each going on to the finals. The quartet chose their songs When Irish Eyes are Smiling and a medley of Garland of Old Fashion Roses/Dear Old Girl for the first round which they won. It was customary for the 15 quartets left for the finals to sing the same songs from their previous round. The Chord Busters repeated Irish Eyes but shocked the audience by singing a new song, when The Bees Are In The Hive/Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland medley.

There was talk that the judges (who were each scoring in all the categories) might disqualify them. Also they had followed the Kansas City Barberpole Cats who did a GREAT job. The Chord Busters saw their performance while waiting in the wings and went on NOT expecting to win. They were apparently more relaxed and might have even sung better. The judges chose the Barflies for third, the Barberpole Cats for second and to the delight of the large Tulsa contingency, The Chord Busters as the new World's Champions. The train trip home was full of celebrities and singers. They were the very first quartet to win on its first attempt.

The notoriety enabled them to be one of the first quartets invited to appear on an out-of-state show. Despite travel restrictions by the war, they appeared on a show in Wichita, Kansas not long after the contest. The sell out show inspired others to risk the added expenses of booking top notch talent from around the society.

They didn't clown or tell jokes. . . the quartet didn't have the talent for that. Their aim was to sing as well as they could. They really enjoyed their greatest compliment when, singing in a small room, those listening admitting they could tell who was singing what part. Their unique style was copied by most of the quartets that followed. . . everyone wanted to sing like the Chord Busters, but few could. They would go on to influence the style in which all future quartets would sing.

They averaged approximately a show a week. It's also been said that if they ever turned down a "mashed potato and peas" freebie, they weren't aware of it. But they did have a fee. Locally, the Chord Busters sometimes charged between $35 to $50 (with $100 being the most ever). For out of town gigs, which were rare 'cause there weren't too many places to go and no way to get there, they waived their fee and got train fare, hotel, and some meals. Lem Childers was still very active with the quartet. He was, in fact, the fifth member. The guys took him to many of their bookings and even shared their quartet pay with him.

One performance stands out. They dropped by a Tulsa hospital to sing for a friend. They soon found themselves entertaining the entire floor of patients and staff. The head nurse asked if they would consider singing for a special patient. They, of course, agreed and he was wheeled into the room. He was in an "extremely tense state". They proceeded to sing Kathleen and by the second verse they noticed he began to relax. So much so that when they had finished, he was slumped over in the chair, completely relaxed. The head nurse informed them that the patient had suffered an extreme nervous breakdown and had been in the hospital for over a week. They had been unable to break through the tension. He could now be treated successfully. This made a great impact on the quartet and helped put performing into a new perspective.

The Chord Busters were asked to appear at the special dedication of the statue of Will Rogers at the Memorial near Claremore along with the Flat Foot Four and the Barflies, August 15, 1941. Less than a month later the Flat Foot Four's tenor, Johnny Whalen died, and the Chord Busters were honored to sing for their dear friend's Memorial Show in Oklahoma City. The show raised money to pay off the mortgage of the Whalen's home.

They often found themselves booked on shows with the Flat Foot Four and the Barflies. Mterwards the Tulsa and Bartlesville champions would swap members for fun and call themselves the "Bar Busters" or the "Chord Flies".

The Chord Busters believed the National Contest to be more than just "another annual competition". Despite pressure to compete again, in 1942 they began the tradition of past champions NOT entering future contests. Today, becoming once a champion, always a champion" is the ultimate goal. They felt the position of "gold medalist" held special responsibilities and by banding together, they could give something back to the Society. It was Doc who conceived and began the "World Champion's Club", predecessor to the current Association of International Champions

In 1944, when gold medals were first presented, the previous winners were not included. Doc Enmeier saw the need for correcting that oversight and saw to it that ALL those who had won before 1944 received the gold medal each had earned. In July of 1943 the draft board stepped in to ruin all the fun. Masengale was the first to go - he selected the Army Air Corp. Holbrook soon followed going to the Marines. Doc and Greer were left home and the Chord Busters were inactive for over two years.

By early 1946 all had made it back home safe and sound until Holbrook moved to Arkansas. The distance wasn't impossible until Greer decided to seek his fame and fortune in Hollywood.

Years before, due to war rationing, The Chord Busters were unable to secure a recording contract. It was well into a farewell party for Greer they realized the next day would probably be the very last chance they would have to record "their" record. They met the next morning at a radio station and cut their only recording. They sang very well but the material being used was a "soft plastic" (shellac was a war casualty) therefore they only got to record each song with one take and with no playback. They finished in time for Bob to make his one o'clock train for the west coast. The studio results were acceptable, however, and the entire project (three 78 rpms) was produced for about $1,500. They sold them for $6.75 (including postage). They joke that the three record set is worth almost that much today.

Bobbie returned home within the year and the Chord Busters continued with replacements such as Bob McCullough Sr. and Delbert Jackson. The official end came in 1957 when Tom was transferred to Houston. Greer suffered a stoke in 1973 at 60. It paralyzed his left side and affected his speech. Although his speech recovered well, he never was the same. They also lost track of Holbrook.

Out of the blue, Holbrook resurfaced in 1982 and suggested a reunion. The original four were invited to sing the weekend of the November 6th Tulsa annual show and reunited after 36 years. The local press covered the event. They first met at a "headquarters hotel" and began singing (rehearsing) for the agreed afterglow appearance. They also gathered for a special dinner with family and friends and some VIP's like George McCaslin, John Loots, Mrs. Corrinne Cash and daughter Betty Anne. The day of the show, they met again and prepared for their much anticipated appearance. Tom laughingly remembers: "Once in a while we would hit a chord in balance with good blend, but thirty-six years took its toll on our memories, however, we enjoyed our singing together IMMENSELY."

They sang their last song together on the afterglow and received a heartfelt standing ovation. Afterwards, they returned to hotel - sang some more - and sometime after 3am, retired to their separate rooms. Just six months later, on May 25, 1983, news came that Bob Holbrook had died of cancer at the age of 68 in Las Vegas. If he had known of his illness, he hadn't told anyone. With Delbert Jackson gone (May 28, 1982) at the age of 66, and Bob Mccullough passing on February 17, 1983 at 69, death had claimed three of the six Chord Busters all within a years time. Bobbie Greer was lost October 28, 1985 at 72 and Doc Enmeier passed away on December 29, 1993 at the age of 9l. Tom died April 25, 1998 at 87.

The Chord Buster's last hurrah was during the 1991 International convention held in Louisville. Tom and Doc were invited to attend as special VIP guests (although at the last minute, Doc was unable for health reasons). On hand was a special exhibit prepared by Ruth Joyce, curator of Heritage Hall, showcasing the quartet's history.

On Saturday night the 10,000 barbershoppers attending witnessed a fitting tribute emceed by fellow gold medalist, Dick Gifford including a video taped tribute, and Acoustix singing the original 1941 arrangement of "When the Bees Are In The Hive/ Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland". It was in celebration of the 50th anniversary of their championship.

External Links


Barbershop Harmony Society - International Quartet Champions
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