As if the COVID pandemic wasn’t bad enough, the Charlotte County Suncoast Statesmen Barbershop chorus took a second haymaker from Hurricane Ian.
When the dust settled, the once almost 60-man-strong chorus was down to about 20 singers. The losses have taken its toll on the group — but they’ve adjusted and will still put on their big show March 19, albeit minus any big-name national groups.
“COVID changed everything,” said James “Curly” Wilson, president of the group. “The international Barbershop Harmony Society sent out notices to all of us not to practice during the (pandemic). Barbershoppers are taught to project out to 15 feet, and that was not good (for spreading any virus). And singing with a mask on is not good.
“So we did not sing for two years.”
And when the groups began getting back together, there were some familiar faces missing.
“I know of 12 members who died, one of them with COVID,” Wilson said. “And about 40% of the group was from Canada and they were some of our younger singers. But they did not show up this year.”
That left the remaining members struggling to not only do their annual singing valentine visits that raise money for scholarships, but to put together a spring show.
There was one answer.
“Each organization was given the choice to vote to allow women in. We had a vote and it was unanimous to allow women into the chorus,” Wilson said.
It was a move that the international group decided it was time for. At the risk of being labeled sexist, the barbershop choruses had resisted memberships for women since the group’s inception.
“They had the Sweet Adelines,” Wilson said, adding he does not think men are allowed to join those groups. “Maybe they could have sued to get in barbershop, but I think they were worried they would lose members to us.”
Nevertheless, women have now joined the Suncoast Statesmen and just in time to fill out quartets for the recent singing valentines fundraiser.
“I think having women in presents an opportunity for growth,” Wilson said. “We’re like a lot of volunteer groups inasmuch as we struggle to get people. Younger people are tied to computers and their phones. But like the Moose and Elks and other groups, people our age don’t participate like they use to.
“We have to get younger. I am hopeful, though, for our future.”
The chorus, at least before the pandemic, put on a big show every year with a national act as guest performers. This year, because of a shortfall in finances, there will be no national act and money from the show will be used to pay expenses.
But, the show will go on. It’s set for 4 p.m. March 19 at Burnt Store Presbyterian Church. There won’t be tickets to buy as there will be a free will offering during the show. You can just show up and hope there are good seats left because sweet harmonies you will hear always bring out a big crowd.
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[beam] The Suncoast Statesmen are terrific! Here's a short clip of their visit to Heritage Oaks Englewood on Valentine's Day! https://youtu.be/WTqJkoenfQk
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