LIMA — In the bleak days of March 1940, with Europe engulfed in World War II and the United States teetering on the brink, The Lima News found a little harmony — of the vocal, not global, kind.
“Those chortles of harmony rumbling out of rehearsal halls of the New York World’s Fair aren’t the first robins heralding spring,” the News wrote March 3, 1940. “They are just the basses and tenors from every crossroads of America limbering their voices to compete for the national championship when ‘The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America’ will meet for one week of harmony and occasional non-harmony, at the Fair in July.”
In 1940, “every crossroads of America” did not include Lima. Although barbershop quartets had been competing at SPEBSQSA events in Ohio since the founding of the society in 1938 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by O.C. Cash and Rupert Hall, Lima did not yet have a chapter.
What Cash and Hall did in 1938 was help in the revival of a singing style rooted in the 19th century, as the Oklahoma Historical Society explains on its website. “Music historians assert that in the 1880s and 1890s African Americans, vocalizing in spirituals, folk songs and popular songs, generated the new style, consisting of unaccompanied, four-part, close-harmony singing,” according to the historical society. “White minstrel singers adopted the style, and in the early days of the recording industry white quartets’ performances were recorded and sold. ‘Old-fashioned standards’ included familiar songs such as ‘Shine On, Harvest Moon,’ ‘Hello, My Baby,’ and ‘Sweet Adeline.’ Very popular in the first decades of the 1900s, barbershop quartet singing faded into obscurity in the 1920s.”
In 1948, 10 years after the founding of SPEBSQSA helped raise it from security, Lima’s basses and tenors joined in the singing. On Aug. 7, 1948, a Lima chapter of the society received its charter and a charter night celebration was held on Oct. 2, 1948.
“Eight quartets from five northwestern Ohio cities appeared before an audience of 1,200 persons at Lima’s Memorial Hall Saturday night,” the News reported Oct. 3, 1948. “The program highlighted charter night ceremonies in which the Lima Beane chapter was accepted officially into the national Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America. Participating vocalists were from Toledo, Defiance, Findlay, Ottawa and Lima. In addition to the quartets, Lima and Findlay choruses also entertained.”
In the 70 years since that night in Memorial Hall, the Lima Beane chapter has done its part to preserve barber shop singing, both with its chorus and the many quartets which have comprised the chapter over the years. In the early years quartets with names like Three Ticks and a Tock, The Derbyaires, The Tone Twisters, the Uncalled Four and the Bluffton Blendaires entertained local audiences.
“The chapter is proud of the accomplishments of the chorus over the years, from traveling to Europe in 1974, and the AmeriFlora Festival in Columbus, to our many local annual performances,” the chorus website notes. “These include such venues as local churches, the Square Fair/Lima Bean Festival, and the many county fairs in the area.”
The Sweet Adelines Club, an auxiliary to the Lima Beane Chapter, was organized in March 1954 with 16 charter members.
Chief among the chapter’s annual events is the Night of Harmony, which was held for many years in the South High School auditorium and later the South Junior High auditorium before moving to Lima Senior High School, Memorial Hall and Veterans Memorial Civic Center. The night features national as well as local entertainment.
“There’s still room for some of the “old” in this modern, fast-paced world,” the News wrote on March 8, 1954. “That was amply proven Saturday night when the ‘standing room only’ sign went out early at a program of some old-fashioned, close harmony barbershop quartet singing in South High School auditorium.”
In 1956, the News reported that “a turn-away crowd of nearly 1,500 heard 2 ½ hours of solid barbershop singing last night in South Junior High School Auditorium — the eighth annual Night of Harmony sponsored by the Lima Beane Chapter, Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America.”
Featured acts that night included the Buffalo Bills from, fittingly, Buffalo, New York, who dressed like Buffalo Bill and sported handlebar mustaches, and the Schmitt Brothers, from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. They were joined by local quartets the Mell-O Chords, of Lafayette, and the Uncalled Four, Cookie Dusters and Kord Deans, all of Lima, as well as the Lima Beane Chorus.
Phil McClain, who joined the Lima Beane Chorus about 1950, recalled hearing the Buffalo Bills, frequent visitors to the Night of Harmony, sing. “It just completely sold me on barbershop quartet music,” he told the News in March 1998, the 50th anniversary of the Lima Beane chapter and chorus. McClain would go on to sing with local quartets the Four Get Fuls, the Midknights and the Cookie Dusters. “We just wore fake mustaches and kind of the old barbershop attire of that time,” he said, explaining that mustaches were once known as cookie dusters.
In March 1990, then-chorus director Lane Bushong told the News that “barbershop singing is our hobby, our golf game, our night out.”
In a March 2009 story in Our Generation’s Magazine, Dale Dicus, who joined the Lima Beane Chorus in the late 1970s, gave another reason for joining. “It’s a good family hobby, too,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about anything being politically incorrect or anything. The guys are nice guys. We’re not out carousing or anything.”
They are still out singing, presenting their 70th annual show in March of this year. “We have approximately 25 guys in our chorus, and they range in all ages; the youngest is in eighth grade and the oldest is around 84 years old,” said Bushong, who has been involved with the chorus for most of its history.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.