By Grady Kerr – Society Historian
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 invitation read:
In this age of dictators and government control of everything, about the only privilege guaranteed by the Bill of Rights not in some way supervised and directed, is the art of Barber Shop Quartet singing.
Without doubt we still have the right of "peaceable assembly" which I am advised by competent legal authority includes quartet singing. The writers of this letter have for a long time thought that something should be done to encourage the enjoyment of this last remaining source of human liberty. Therefore, we have decided to hold a songfest on the Roof Garden of the Tulsa Club on Monday, April 11, at 6:30 p. m.
A Dutch lunch will be served.
After several months of research and investigation, we are convinced that your record warrants our tendering you the honor of joining this group. We sincerely trust you will not fail us.
As evidence of the work that your Committee has done in this connection, we enclose a compilation of most of the good old fashioned Barber Shop Quartet songs which we trust you will look over and familiarize yourself with. Bring this list with you.
It is our purpose to start right in at the first, sing every song, in numerical order, plow right down the middle, and let the chips fall where they will.
What could be sweeter than ten or twelve perfectly synchronized male voices singing "Dear Old Girl!" Just thinking about it brought back to your Committee fond memories of a moonlight night, a hay ride and the soft young blonde visitor from Kansas City we dated on that occasion years ago.
Do not forget the date, and make every effort to be present, telephone us if convenient. We will have a private room and so will not be embarrassed by the curiosity of the vulgar public. You may bring a fellow singer if you desire.
Rupert Hall, Royal Keeper of the Minor Keys
O. C. Cash, Third Assistant Temporary Vice Chairman
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.
So, when you harmonize this week, ring a four part chord in tribute to these 26 close harmony lovers.