It’s not so easy to find a barbershop in Westchester, let alone a $10 haircut or a barbershop quartet. Back in the old days, men would hang out at barbershops waiting their turn for a hot towel and a shave with a straight edge razor. Mainly of African American roots, barbershoppers would harmonize away the minutes with acoustical versions of folk songs and spirituals. Later, minstrels adopted the style which evolved into such favorites as the “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Shine On Harvest Moon.” You may remember those.
While “Hello My Baby” isn’t on today’s playlist, it is part of the repertoire of a group of 65 barbershoppers who call themselves the Westchester Chordsman, a 60-year old all-male a cappella group that practices their ringing chords or overtones at 7 p.m. every Monday night at the Westchester County Center. They perform barbershop, pop, Broadway favorites and men’s crossover/classical as a chorus or in smaller groups of four recalling the barbershop revival begun in the 1940s and still prevalent today. Tom LaMotte of Bedford (husband of former legislator Ursula LaMotte) has been with the group almost 50 years and sings with what is called the Letterman Quartet (pictured above), so named because they have performed eight times on the Letterman Show. LaMotte likes to note that there are 800 chapters of barbershop harmony groups all over the world “and ours is ranked in the top 10 percent.”
The Chordsmen are part of the Barbershop Harmony Society, a competitive group not unlike a baseball league. Not too shabby is the way I’d describe their recent win over 15 other choruses to become the Northwestern Division Champions. “Most members are not professional and many do not even read music,” says Director Keith Harris. “But they all love to sing.” Richard Kaiser of New Rochelle, the group’s chief marketeer, is always looking for new talent. “Know any men who sing? Tell them about us. We have lots of fun doing what we do.”
I can attest to the fun part. Each year, I like to add a love song or two to their playlist at the Iron Horse Grill on Valentine’s Day. This year, it was “I Had A Dream Dear,” which was actually sung in barbershop tradition by the whole Yankee’s team in 1949 when they beat the Red Sox for the pennant. It’s been reported that Mel Allen asked Tommy Henrich to sing a song and the rest was history. The Chordsmen came through with flying colors. They knew the song chapter and verse.
To learn more about the Westchester Chordsmen and how to become a member, visit www.chordsmen.org.