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.
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,
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.
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
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.
|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|