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The Bloomington (IL) Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society is one of 33 in the Illinois District. It formed April 12, 1942, and is listed as the 23rd to form in the original Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc., which began in 1938.

The Bloomington Chapter’s first meeting was April 27, 1942, at the American Legion Building at the invitation of B. Paul Jefferson and L. Earl Bach. Paul became first president, John Hanson of Peoria was hired as director on May 18, and the Illinois Hotel became the rehearsal site that year.

Other founding members (in addition to Jefferson and Bach): K.R. Ward, secretary-treasurer; Joe Bunting; Otto G. Beich; L. Earl Bach; Dave Ward; Hugh A. Henry; Floyd Dana; Art Kane; Dan Carmody. More information about these men is on the chapter website under the History tab.


Hotbed of Harmony

From the international board of directors, to the teaching and arranging of barber shop music, to the growth of chapters, Bloomington was truly a hotbed of harmony.

Names such as John Hanson, Bloomington’s first director, and Floyd Connett, second director, were widely known across the Society in the formative years.

There are others. Loren Bogart, international stage presence judge and district president. And Bob Lindley, long-time Bloomington show emcee, who is the only chapter member to hold a quartet gold medal from international competition (The Vikings in 1953). And Sam Anliker, former SOI director and founder of Bloomington High School Barbershoppers, a pioneer group in the Society’s Youth In Harmony program. And Dwayne Cooper, a product of the Bloomington High program who is Society treasurer and past president of the Southwestern District.


Activities

In competition. The Bloomington chorus appearance in Pittsburgh, PA, in July 2015 marks the eighth consecutive year (11th overall) SOI has represented Illinois in the “olypmics” of barbershop chorus competition. Bloomington placed third in 1957, fourth in 1960 and 10th in 1977.

Performances for charity. March of Dimes Radio Auction (later the Children’s Health Services Radio Auction), WJBC Radio Brotherhood Tree (Christmas gifts for needy McLean County, IL, families), Habitat for Humanity fund-raising concerts, Brokaw (Hospital) Follies fund-raising programs.

Community performances. Annual shows (every year since inception) for local patrons featuring the best barber shop quartets and the Bloomington chorus; Sounds of Christmas, a free holiday program that features local community talent (SOI is the only group selected every year); Community Players four productions since the 1960s of The Music Man play, featuring quartets from SOI; concerts as featured group with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra; Singing Valentines, a service of songs and flowers to local patrons.

Society Ranking. In 2011, the Bloomington Chapter (known as the Sound of Illinois), was recognized by BHS as its third best chapter, judged on a range of activities considered important to success: membership, community outreach, chapter management, contest involvement, member fulfillment.

Grant Support. The Sound of Illinois Chorus is a respected member of the Central Illinois arts community, acknowledged by grants from Central Illinois Arts Council, Town of Normal Harmon Arts Grants,

Key Dates

May 5, 1941 – Bloomington’s Paul Jefferson wrote a letter to Paul Wadicka, Society board member from St. Louis, Mo., inquiring about the steps necessary to organize an SPEBSQSA chapter in Bloomington. They had met Sunday, April 20, 1941, when Wadicka attended a state board meeting in Bloomington.

Feb. 22, 1942 – A carload of 6 Bloomington men (Otto Beich, Earl Bach, Paul Jefferson, Joe Bunting, Kay Ward and Dave Ward) went to Springfield for a meeting sponsored by the Illinois Harmony Club on the second floor of St. John’s Union Hall. Singers from Springfield, Canton, Peoria, Pawnee, Jacksonville, Decatur, St. Louis (probably more) attended. Quartets performed: Harmony Kings, Capitol City Four, Morgan County Four, Mound City Four. The Peoria Chorus sang, directed by John Hanson. This was the Bloomington men’s first introduction to Hanson.

March 26, 1942 – About 20 Bloomington men and wives returned to Springfield to hear the Southernaires, nationally-famous Negro quartet. It was after this meeting that the Bloomington men aggressively pursued organization.

Sunday, April 19 –The men gathered at the Illinois Hotel during the state meeting of SPEBSQSA with organization details in hand. The Bloomington group elected Paul Jefferson president and Kay Ward secretary-treasurer.

Monday, April 27, 1942 – Notices were mailed to many local men, urging them to attend the first regular meeting at the American Legion Building in Bloomington at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 27, 1942. Newspaper coverage indicates more than 100 men attended.

Monday, May 4, 1942 – Second meeting. No record of what happened!

Monday, May 18, 1942 – Peoria Director John Hanson agreed to meet and direct the Bloomington chorus at 7:30 p.m. at the Illinois Hotel.

Monday, May 25, 1942 – John Hanson agreed to continue directing the Bloomington group until it was fully organized. He directed Bloomington 10 years. Hanson also was the SPEBSQSA organization’s first official emcee.

The Chorus Name

The Bloomington Chorus has had three names over the years. Founded in 1942, the chapter adopted the Corn Belt Chorus name at the 1943 Society convention in Grand Rapids, site of the first chorus contest. When members of Bloomington and surrounding chapters sang together in the hotel lobby, someone asked: “What’s the name of that bunch?” Founder Joe Bunting shouted back: “The Corn Belt Chorus.”

That name stuck until 1956 when the chorus won the right to compete in the Society’s fifth chorus competition. When the chorus won third place in Los Angeles (1957), it was known as the Kountry Kernels. No one recorded who came up with the name, but the bib overalls and red bandanas carried out the theme.

In 1973, a contest to find a new name resulted in Sound of Illinois, submitted by Loren Bogart. New gold suits were introduced at the Ladies’ Night dinner at Williams Town Hall, along with Bogart’s winning name. “I was quite honored the chorus finally accepted one of my suggestions after 27 years of offering ideas,” joked Bogart, according to The Barber Post.

Directors

1941-1953 John Hanson

1953-1957 Floyd Connett

1957-1971 Glenn Perdue

1971-1977 Samuel L. Anliker

1977-1979 Dean Ramga

1979-1982 Byron Blair

1982-1990 Jim Stahly

1991-1993 Byron Blair, Jim Stahly

1994 George Peters

1994-1995 Byron Blair

1995-2002 Dennis Morrissey

2002-Present Terry Ludwig

Venues

1942-1962 Illinois Hotel

1962-1963 Bloomington Federal Savings & Loan

1963-1967 Miller Park Pavilion

1967-1974 Illinois House

1974-1976 Central Catholic High School

1976-1978 Odd Fellows Hall (Normal)

1978-1983 Bloomington Consistory

1983-1986 Mennonite Health Services Building

1986-2004 Bloomington Consistory

2004-Present Second Presbyterian Church

Corn Belt Chorus

Bloomington’s first director, John Hanson, also led choruses in other Central Illinois communities. He told Society Founder O.C. Cash in a recorded letter (circa 1944) his dream was to someday put a thousand men on stage at the same time, all singing songs he had taught them at their individual chapter meetings.

At that time, he admitted, there wasn’t a venue large enough to hold such a group, so the most that had gathered for one singout was about 300. The concept took shape in 1946 with choruses in 9 cities participating: Bloomington, Decatur, Monmouth, Canton, Jacksonville, Peoria, Rock Island, Galesburg and Lincoln. It died in 1953 when John Hanson retired from directing (he died July 17, 1954). At that time, six cities were involved (Bloomington, Decatur, Champaign, Dwight, Peoria, and Gibson City). The name was the result of an impromptu response by Founder Joe Bunting, who coined the name at Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1953. Men from Central Illinois chapters were attending the international convention and were heard singing in the hotel lobby. Someone shouted: “Who are you guys?” Bunting responded: “The Corn Belt Chorus.” The name stuck. Bloomington and Decatur choruses were involved all eight years of the Corn Belt Chorus.

On Feb. 29 and March 1, 1992, to honor Bloomington’s 50th anniversary, the Corn Belt Chorus was recreated on Bloomington’s show. More than 130 members from 10 Central Illinois choruses performed seven songs on Illinois State University’s Braden Auditorium stage as part of the Heritage of Harmony show. Quartets on the show were The Naturals from Ohio, plus Bloomington quartets The Ideals and Interstate Junction.

Number of Corn Belt Chorus cities by year:

1946 – 9 cities

1947 – 7 cities

1948 – 10 cities

1949 – 8 cities

1950 – 4 cities

1951 – 5 cities

1952 – 6 cities

1953 – 6 cities

Community Involvment by year:

Community No. of Years Years

Bloomington 8 1946-53

Decatur 8 1946-53

Champaign 6 1948-53

Monmouth 5 1946-50

Canton 4 1946-49

Jacksonville 4 1946-49

Dwight 3 1951-53

Peoria 3 1946, 1952-53

Rock Island 3 1946-47, 1949

Galesburg 2 1946, 1948

Mattoon 2 1947-48

Burlington, IA 1 1949

Cambridge 1 1947

Charleston 1 1948

Gibson City 1 1953

Lincoln 1 1946

Princeton 1 1948

Springfield 1 1951

Urbana 1 1952

Sounds of Christmas Since its inception in 1982, the Sounds of Christmas at State Farm’s Corporate Headquarters atrium in Bloomington has included the Sound of Illinois as a performer. It is the only music organization that has appeared every year.

This Christmas gift to the community (all performances are free) is a coordinated effort by The Music Shoppe of Normal, State Farm Insurance Companies and WGLT-FM Radio. (WJBC Radio was involved prior to 2014.) Music Shoppe owner Randy Wood and Joy Hippensteele are responsible for creative direction and talent selection for the concerts. State Farm is host and provides logistical support. WJBC Radio handles promotion and ticket distribution. The radio station also records the program for broadcast later.

Each season, two hour-long shows are presented back-to-back. Seating is limited to 1,200, so tickets are given out in a lottery drawing from requests mailed to the radio station.

Dick Benson, former local musician and music store owner, was responsible for starting The Sounds of Christmas. He was inspired by the setting at State Farm employee gatherings in the atrium, which included the company’s first holiday event there in 1976. Dick was recruited by Jim Stahly, State Farm song leader, to accompany carol singing on organ (which had to be transported to and from the venue by truck).

The transformation of the corporate atrium into a holiday centerpiece inspired Dick to approach State Farm with his idea of presenting a joint holiday gift to the community during the company’s 60th anniversary year (1982).

His pitch was made in a meeting with State Farm CEO Ed Rust Sr., and Dick was accompanied by Don Munson of WJBC Radio and Jim Stahly, State Farm public relations employee. Mr. Rust liked the idea and Sounds of Christmas was born. There is no record of whether the company intended for the program to be more than a one-year event, but that became a moot point because of the show’s public reception.

Dick Benson died in 2013.

Lucca Grill Loans Bar for Shows John Baldini, purveyor of food (including pizza) and drink in downtown Bloomington, agreed to loan the Lucca Grill bar to be used on-stage at The Consistory (now the BCPA) for a Bloomington western show in 1958. The bar managed for the entire weekend without its counter.

Lucca Grill continues to be a location for winding down after rehearsals for SOI members, sometimes with a few tunes. Show chairmen Hugh Henry and Charlie Driver (both deceased) often collaborated on creative aspects of shows at the Lucca Grill, and they were responsible for coaxing Baldini to loan the huge bar. In a later Bloomington show at ISU’s Braden Auditorium, Baldini played the role of bartender. The first show went according to script. The second show took a bit longer as Baldini added his own material to the patter.

Presidents

Year President Sec/Treas Show Theme Show Chairman Emcee
1942-3 Paul Jefferson Kay R. Ward Parade of Quartets None None
1943-4 Hugh A. Henry Ray V. Hopkins Parade of Quartets L. Earl Bach None
1944-5 T.F. (Ted) Campbell Ray V. Hopkins Parade of Quartets L. Earl Bach Norm Davis
1945-6 George P. Smith E. D. Olinger Parade of Quartets L. Earl Bach Joe Bunting
1946-7 Adolph A. Modahl E. M. Lebkuecher Parade of Quartets L. Earl Bach Joe Bunting
1947-8 John T. Dickinson E. M. Lebkuecher Parade of Quartets L. Earl Bach L. Earl Bach
1948-9 L. Earl Bach Forrest G. Stahly Parade of Quartets L. Earl Bach L. Earl Bach
1949-50 Charles J. Driver Forrest G. Stahly Parade of Quartets L. Earl Bach L. Earl Bach
1950-1 J. H. Bellamy Forrest G. Stahly Parade of Quartets L. Earl Bach L. Earl Bach
1951-2 E. J. (Nip) Behrmann Forrest G. Stahly Parade of Quartets Emil Wichmann Joe Bunting
1952-3 Emil Wichmann Forrest G. Stahly Parade of Quartets John Dickinson Joe Bunting
1953-4 Harold L. Coffman Forrest G. Stahly Parade of Quartets John Dickinson Joe Bunting
1954-5 Gene F. Smedley Forrest G. Stahly Parade of Quartets John Dickinson Joe Bunting
1955-6 Edwin H. Cooke Forrest G. Stahly Bloomington, The All-American City John Dickinson B. Paul Jefferson
1956-7 Edward W. Lindsay Forrest G. Stahly Singing for the Angels Charles J. Driver Ivan H. Jenkins
1959-60 Bill Finkbiner Forrest G. Stahly Big Dallas, Here We Come Charles Driver Bob Lindley
1961 Forrest G. Stahly Charles J. Driver Civil War Charles J. Driver Bob Lindley
1962 Robert R. Lind Forrest G. Stahly 20th Anniversary Charles J. Driver Bob Lindley
1963 Loren F. Bogart Forrest G. Stahly George M. Cohan Charles J. Driver Bob Lindley
1964 Paul Gehrt Bernard Jacobs Close Harmony Around the Year Charles J. Driver Bob Lindley
1965 Bill Von Drehle Bill Sullivan/Warren Cumpston Let’s Harmonize Charles J. Driver, Forrest G. Stahly Bob Lindley
1966 John A. Behnke Bill Sullivan/Warren Cumpston Barber Shop Tin-Type Charles J. Driver, Forrest G. Stahly Bob Lindley
1967 Jim Stahly Bill Sullivan, Warren Cumpston The Best of the Past – 25th Anniversary Show Charles J. Driver, Forrest G. Stahly, Hugh A. Henry Bob Lindley
1968 Al Draper Aubrey E. Johnson, Roland Raydon Melodies in Harmony Bill Von Drehle, Paul Gehrt Bob Lindley
1969 Bill Sullivan Aubrey E. Johnson Barbershop USA Bill Von Drehle, Paul Gehrt, Jim Stahly Bob Lindley
1970 Willard J. (Jay) Siebert Forrest G. Stahly Barber Shop Varieties of 1970 Charles J. Driver, Paul Gehrt Wally Ryan
1971 Paul Sennewald Forrest G. Stahly The Better Half of Barbershopping Charles J. Driver, Paul Gehrt, Forrest G. Stahly Bob Lindley
1972 Don Sherrard Forrest G. Stahly Broadway, Barber Shop Style Bill Von Drehle Buzz Haeger
1973 Jack Aldridge Forrest G. Stahly “Happiness Is” Bill Von Drehle, Paul Gehrt Don Munson
1974 Miles L. Ward Wally Hood Showboat Bill Von Drehle, Paul Gehrt Don Munson
1975 Kurt Gummerman Wally Hood Girl Crazy Paul Gehrt, Bill Sullivan Don Munson
1976 William E. Spencer Gene Gardner, Wally Hood What A Country Paul Gehrt, Bill Sullivan Tim Stivers
1977 Wendel Augspurger Gene Gardner, Larry Hensley Barbershop for All Seasons Paul Gehrt, Bill Sulivan Bob Lindley
1978 Kenneth L. Leitzen Gene Gardner, Larry Hensley Sound of Illinois in Concert Paul Gehrt, Bill Sullivan Ray Henders
1979 Larry Finger Aaron Garrett, Larry Hensley The Music Man Paul Gehrt, Bill Sullivan Don Munson
1980 Wally Hood Aaron Garrett, Lee Wells Circus Daze Paul Gehrt, Bill Sullivan Don Munson
1981 Merrill McCall Aaron Garrett, Lee Wells Off the Record Jack Aldridge, Charles J. Driver Jerry McDonough
1982 Eldon Haab Lee Wells Harmony Through the Years Jack Aldridge, Charles J. Driver Ed Lindsay
1983 Gordon Turnbull Lee Wells Barbershop Bonanza Jack Aldridge, Walt Linne Ed Lindsay
1984 Warren Wickham Ken Uphoff, Harry Morris Girls, Girls, Girls Tom Debord, Walt Linne Sandie Hawthorne
1985 Dick Eade Ken Uphoff, Harry Morris The Sounds of Freedom Tom Debord, Walt Linne Rich Buchanan, Dick Godfrey
1986 Kenneth L. Leitzen Ken Uphoff, Harry Morris A Salute to Jolson Tom Debord, Marcus Maier Rich Buchanan
1987 Don Leonard Ken Uphoff Smile in the Barbershop Style Tom Debord Rich Buchanan
1988 Bill Spencer Ken Uphoff, Harry Morris Barbershop Harmony: A Golden Tradition Tom Debord, Marcus Maier Rich Buchanan
1989 Merrill McCall Ken Uphoff, Frank Ripsom The World of Harmony Tom Debord, Don Leonard Bob Cearnal
1990 Harvey Styron Ken Uphoff, Frank Ripsom Home Is Where the Heart Is Tom Debord, Don Leonard Bob Cearnal
1991 Herb Burdett Ken Uphoff, Frank Ripsom College Days Tom Debord, Don Leonard Bob Cearnal
1992 Clay Martin Ken Uphoff, Frank Ripsom Heritage of Harmony Tom Debord, Don Leonard Rich Buchanan
1993 Jim Allen Ken Uphoff, Frank Ripsom Down the Mississipppi Tom Debord, Don Leonard Dick Johnson
1994 Wayne Brown Doug Rixstine, Todd Abeling Strollin’ Down Harmony Lane Tom Debord, Don Leonard Steve Vogel
1995 Rich Buchanan Doug Rixstine, Chuck Parlette Sweethearts & Others Tom Debord, Marcus Maier, Phil Rolfs Dick Johnson
1996 Rich Buchanan Phil Rolfs, Tom Schiebel Radio Daze Tom Debord, Marcus Maier, Phil Rolfs Tim Calhoun
1997 Greg Grey Todd Abeling, Tom Schiebel Harmony Highway Greg Grey, Marcus Maier, Phil Rolfs John Morrill
1998 Merrill McCall Jim Waldorf, Tom Schiebel History of Harmony Greg Grey, Marcus Maier, Phil Rolfs Ron Melzer
1999 Jim Waldorf Bret Reinthaler, Tom Schiebel Stage & Screen Greg Grey, Marcus Maier, Phil Rolfs Bruce Parrish
2000 Phil Rolfs Bret Reinthaler, Tom Schiebel USO: A Sentimental Journey Tom Debord, Bret Reinthaler Mike McNeil
2001 Dick Eade Kevin Greer, Tom Schiebel 2001: A Bass Odyssey Tom Debord, Bret Reinthaler Judy Markowitz
2002 Al Draper Kevin Greer, Tom Schiebel Songs for All Seasons Tom Debord, Doug Ferrier, Bret Reinthaler Royce Elliott
2003 Al Draper Kevin Greer, Tom Schiebel Swing! Tom Debord, Doug Ferrier, Bret Reinthaler Marc Boon
2004 Phil Rolfs Kevin Greer, Tom Schiebel And They Called It Dixieland Bret Reinthaler, Phil Rolfs, Doug Ferrier Marc Boon
2005 John Leitzen Kevin Greer, Tom Schiebel A Tribute to “Hee-Haw” Bret Reinthaler, Grey Grey, Cregg Miyat, Harry Lovell Jim Stahly, Mike Claver, Mayor Judy Markowitz
2006 John Leitzen Kevin Greet, Tom Schiebel Off Broadway Greg Grey, Cregg Miyat, Harry Lovell Jim Stahly
2007 Pat Dunagan Kevin Greer, Tom Schiebel Technical Difficulties Greg Grey, Cregg Miyat, Harry Lovell Doug Ferrier
2008 Jim Waldorf Kevin Greer, Tom Schiebel My Fellow Americans Mark Bradley, Harry Lovell, Greg Grey Doug Ferrier
2009 Jim Waldorf Kevin Greer, Tom Schiebel Remember Radio Mark Bradley, Cregg Miyat, Harry Lovell Doug Ferrier
2010 Doug Ferrier Kevin Greer, Tom Schiebel Pirates on the High C’s Mark Bradley, Cregg Miyat, Harry Lovell Jim Stahly
2011 Doug Ferrier Kevin Greer, Tom Schiebel It Had To Be You Gary Eustice, Harry Lovell, Mark Bradley Raymond Schwartzkopf
2012 Brett Mulford Kevin Greer, Tom Schiebel All You Need Is Love Mark Bradley, Harry Lovell, Ken Ota Ray Palmateer
2013 Brett Mulford Kevin Greer, Tom Schiebel Barbertoons Doug Ferrier, Harry Lovell, Ken Ota None
2014 Kevin Greer Ron Darner, Tom Schiebel Songs of Sinatra Doug Ferrier, Harry Lovell, Ken Ota None
2015 Kevin Greer Tony Meizelis, Tom Schiebel Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Harry Lovell, Mark Bradley None
2016 Ken Ota Tony Meizelis, Tom Schiebel Get Your Kicks on Route 66 Bret Reinthaler, Evan Patrick