The Kansas City chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society was the second chapter to be founded in SPEBSQSA. That organization was begun on April 11, 1938 and Kansas City's chapter chartered on June 2nd in the same year. But our city had already figured in the story before that meeting. Sometime in the early spring of 1938 a chance meeting occurred between OC Cash and Rupert Hall, two businessmen from Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the Muehlebach Hotel.
In the book Keep America Singing, the ten-year history of our society, Cash recalls the meeting in Kansas City in early 1938 when the idea for starting a singing club in Tulsa originated. Cash stated,
"I ran into Rupert I. Hall, whom I knew slightly, and as I was lonesome that night I asked if he could sing tenor. He gave the typical barbershopper's answer: 'I suppose I'm the best barbershop tenor in the United Sates'. I tried him out on 'I Had a Dream, Dear' and he stayed on pitch. We concluded that we were terribly good and canvassed the hotel lobby for a lead and bass. We picked up a couple and went to Rupe's room and developed a fairly good quartet." (Keep America Singing, 1948, Deac (C.T.) Martin)
He then told Hall of his plan to organize a barbershop quartet club, as he had discussed with some others before and they agreed to get something started that spring in Tulsa. On April 11th the first meeting was held at the Tulsa Club. He originally intended for the organization to be only a local club.
The Tulsa meetings went well. In fact the third meeting drew 150 men whose singing was so noticeable it caused a traffic jam. That resulted in a news story which was picked up by the Associated Press. Judge Edgar Shook, in Kansas City, heard about the Tulsa group and helped organize a visit by them to his city. Here is the except from Keep America Singing describing the visit:
"About 40 enthusiasts made that first trip by special car when Kansas City, like St. Paul's vision of the Macedonians, had called "Come over and help us----organize." Illustrative of how difficult it was to satisfy harmony hunger in pre-SPEBSQSA days, Judge Shook and Cash had previously tried a case together in Jefferson City, Mo. and afterward had given "a bell boy 4 bits, to go to the lobby and yell 'Call for a barbershop tenor and bass'. In a few minutes we had calls, all certifying that they were the best bass or tenor in Missouri."
"The Kansas City meeting June 18, was such a complete success that Tulsans, urged by their new found Missouri friends to sing just one more, missed the special car home. Winthrop Williams, K.C. lumberman was elected "president of the combined fraternities." Joseph E. Stern, real estate man and a quarteter since high school days, recalls that the news of the local get-together was "sweet music to our ears" because he and Bert Phelps had tried to form a quartet in the Real Estate Club "but it was such a stinky quartet that I eased myself out." Phelps, of sterner harmony fiber, stuck with it and later the Kansas City Barberpole Cats quartet evolved, still later to become the Hy-Power Serenaders. Baritone Phelps and lead Ben Franklin, one of the few bonafide barbers in the singing society, saw tenors and basses come and go, but over the succeeding years these two indestructibles have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in seven Finals of the National and International contests of the Society, coming out in second place five times to set a record for "almost a bride." (Keep America Singing, 1948, Deac (C.T.) Martin)
Prior to the Serenaders great run at the contests the Kansas City Police Quartet had been the first group from our chapter to do well. They placed fourth in the second contest in New York City during the World's Fair. So Kansas City had quartets that placed second at three of the first five Internationals!
According to Orval Wilson, our only surviving chapter member from our first year as an organization, in interviews during the 1990's, throughout the earliest days of our chapter the downtown hotels served as our center of activity. The Muehlebach and the Phillips Hotels provided meeting space. The Phillips had a lower level room which seemed most attractive as it was spacious and alcohol could be served. Several different men throughout those early years were chosen to lead the group but Joe Stern was the only constant. It seemed another leader would take the reins for a few months but Joe would always be pressed back into service. Most likely without his devotion the chapter may have really struggled.
- The Kansas City Missouri Chapter recognizes and honors the musical directors of the Heart of America Chorus. They have used their skills to direct and impart their musical knowledge to each member of the chorus with one goal in mind: to enhance and improve the singing and performance excellence of the chorus. Through these efforts, each director of HOA has contributed mightily to the entertainment, preservation and encouragement of singing in the barbershop style. We are searching for specific tenures for three directors from our earliest years, who do not appear in the chronology:
- Originally, board members served one-year terms starting on our charter date, so early presidents appear in consecutive years. This was changed in 1961 to conform to the calendar.
June 2nd - Kansas City Missouri chapter of SPEBSQSA charters
President - Joe Stern