Barbershop music often conjures up images of four men in stripped vests and straw skimmer hats, singing music of a bygone era without instruments. Well, folks, the ladies have stepped up to the plate too and are finding sweet harmonies.
Sweet Adelines, the women’s counterpart to the Barbershop Harmony Society, includes a Kansas City chapter. Within the larger chorus are several quartets, including the 2010 International Champions, Zing!. While Zing! lead the way, other quartets are striving and sharing a camaraderie that comes from years of sharing an art form. One such group is Special Touch. Since October 2003, four professional businesswomen from seemingly the four corners of the metropolitan community have united in their love to sing — Barb Patton, lead; Ruth Anne Decker, tenor; Stacy Patton, baritone; and Lori Carrender, bass.
All four women hesitated a little before joining the Sweet Adelines. Barb has been singing the longest and was encouraged by her preacher’s wife. “I didn’t want the commitment, but after one night I was hooked.” Having known Stacy all her life, Barb started taking Stacy with her after Stacy started dating Barb’s son Brian. “I had just graduated high school. That was 12 years ago.” Barb says, “If Stacy was going got be part of the family, she needed to see this. My children grew up in this. My son even proposed to Stacy in front of the chorus.”
Carrender came to the chorus with a family background in barbershop. Her parents and grandparents had a mixed quartet. “I grew up around this music. When my aunt moved from Pensacola, Florida, she asked me to come with her to the Sweet Adelines. I saw women having fun and I was hooked.” Decker was also born into it — her mother still sings with the choir. “I went to rehearsals and she told me I could join when I grew taller than her. With my work, though, I now sing with just the quartet.”
Before a Christmas rehearsal for the Sweet Adelines more than six years ago, the four women decided to see if they could sing together. They have been singing ever since. “Our personalities all work together. We take everything with a grain of salt and a great sense of humor,” Carrender says. “When we are together we like to sing. With this art form, it is proven that the longer you sing, you learn what you can do with your voice. It grows and gets better. We can be that much better so we push ourselves.”
The quartet has sung for weddings, anniversaries, the American Royal, baseball and soccer games and Singing Valentines. For two years, the women have performed Singing Valentines. “We went to a meeting at Argosy Casino and sang. We had to stop singing because we were laughing so hard. We had to regain our collective composure,” Barb says.
The other joy is to bring an interest in to younger women. Barb says the chorus sponsors a group of younger girls called the La-Ti-Dahs! “There are so many who don’t know about barbershop. We want younger women to help keep this art form alive. We are all about ‘real harmony, real women and real fun.’” On Feb. 20, the Heart of America Barbershop Chorus and the Kansas City Chorus of the Sweet Adelines sponsors the annual Harmony Explosion. Junior high schoolers and middle schoolers compete in men’s and women’s quartets and sing in a large chorus.
“The ballads we do are about love and passion, heartbreak. ‘Kiss Me One More Time’ is great. The music may be different, but the message is something young people understand,” Carrender says. “It’s sung with the right sort of emotion. The big difference for the guys in the Heart of America group and for us … we don’t hide behind instruments. There is a great connection that occurs between us and the audience.” Barb says there is a lot of flirting going on. They have sung at rehearsal dinners and flirted with the groom, Carrender says. “It’s about embarrassing folks in a nice way,” Decker says.
The women have also organized a benefit for Shauna Heck, a young woman battling cancer. The Jan. 10 event at Summit Lakes Middle School has six quartets performing (as of Nov. 21). “The barbershop community is a lot like family,” Carrender says. “You can count on the Sweet Adelines,” Stacy says. And if you don’t believe it, just as the ladies what their favorite song is and all four of them exclaim, “We Go Together” from “Grease.” “It really symbolizes us,” Barb says.