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Michigan Pioneered Barbershopping

Soon after the first barbershop singers meeting April 11, 1938, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the strains of four-part harmony were heard all over the Midwest, especially in Michigan.

The Pioneer District (known as the Michigan District until 1968) had its official beginning on June 8, 1940. However, our first chapters had already begun organizing in 1939.

Growth was fast. The first chapter formed in the state was Detroit No. 1. The first meeting of the Detroit Chapter was held on Sunday, July 30, 1939 with a group of twenty men. They met in the cottage of William Barry at Lake Orion, Michigan. At that meeting the Detroit Chapter was organized and a charter was applied for --the first in Michigan. This was the first chapter organized east of the Mississippi. (This is contested by the Wilmington, DL and the Chicago, IL chapters. However, there is no proof left to say which was truely the first.) The first regular meeting of the Detroit Chapter, following the initial meeting, and was held at the Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit on August 25, 1939, with about 50 men in attendance. Detroit was followed by Lansing, Flint and Grand Rapids. (The first four chapters were followed later by several others, including Muskegon, Saginaw, Jackson, Caro, Oakland County, Traverse City, Kalamazoo, Midland, Owosso and Battle Creek.)

The first Michigan quartet contest was held in the spring of 1940 in Grand Rapids. Emcee was O.C. Cash, founder of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America.

On June 8, 1940 the Michigan District was formed, the first organized district in the Society.

The Society's FIRST parade of quartets (a show) was staged on the evening of June 8, 1940 in the Grand Ballroom of the Book Cadillac Hotel by the Detroit Chapter. This was the precursor to chorus and quartet shows annually produced by virtually every Society chapter. Of note is that Detroit-Oakland Chapter is still holding its annual show. It is the oldest running annual show in the Society history.

The first ever state or district-sponsored quartet contest under the SPEBSQSA auspices was hosted by the Grand Rapids Chapter on March 9, 1941.

Barbershopping grew fast in Michigan in the 1940s, with the rest of the Society looking to the state for leadership. In 1943, Oakland County became the first chapter with more than 300 members. Peak membership years in Michigan were 1947-48, with more than 3,000 members in 65 chapters.

In 1942 the Society named Carroll P. Adams of Detroit as its national president. In 1943 Adams became national secretary, and moved the national headquarters to Detroit. (It would later move to Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1957.) In 1944, Windsor, Ontario, joined the Society co-sponsored by the Oakland County and Detroit #1 Chapters. This made our society truely international.

In 1944, Detroit hosted the first international convention. International headquarters took over running the contest this year and made it a financial success. Fifty-eight quartets competed that year with the Michigan District claiming the first International Quartet Championship when the Harmony Halls from the Grand Rapids chapter were crowned. (Until that year, quartet winners were proclaimed National Champions, but with the Society becoming international upon the advent of the Windsor Chapter, they were now known as Internationl Champions.)

While the Society was promoting quartet singing, chapters also had begun choruses. By 1947 there were more than 15 choruses in the Michigan District. The first international chorus contest was held six years later at the Society convention in 1953 in Detroit. Grand Rapids was the first chorus champ, and has represented the district in internatonal competition many times since then.


Ben Landino, of the Grosse Pointe Chapter, presented the new International Quartet Championship Trophy to the Mid States Four at the Internation Convention in 1949. Landino was a master craftsman in shaping sheet bronze, and Al Steiner, also of the Grosse Pointe Chapter, did the engraving. This trophy, which became known as the Ben Landino trophy, was passed on until the internationl contest in Kansas City in 1989, at which time it was retired. The nine quartets that preceded the Mid States Four had their names engraved on the trophy, so that when the trophy was retired, the first fifty quartet champions were inscribed on it. The trophy is now resting in the Society's Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. Ben also designed and handcrafted the International Chorus Trophy in 1952!

Over the years the district has had four international championship quartets, Power Play (2003), Gentlemen's Agreement (1971), the Auto Towners (1966) and the Harmony Halls (1943). We've also had one Senior Quartet Champion, Resisting-A-Rest in 2010. Other district quartets which have placed in the top five internationally are Center Stage (1981-84), Vagabonds (1975-77), Clef Dwellers (1948-51), Antlers (1949-50), Note Blenders (1950), Songmasters (1949), and Continentals (1945).

In 1968, the Michigan District was renamed the Pioneer District, reflecting its importance in early barbershopping.

In 1981, the Pioneer District hosted the 43rd International Convention, touted at "Truly International" with chapters from both the United States and Canada helping with the hosting duties.

Among individual contributors, Joseph Wolff of Detroit wrote the Society's Code of Ethics and Willis A. Diekema of Holland composed its theme song, Keep America Singing written in 1947.

Sources: Robert McDermott, late Pioneer District historian of the Detroit Chapter.

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