I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have a lot of push back when I selected the “Mount Rushmore” of barbershop quartet basses. It appears I may have overlooked Wally Singleton of the Confederates, but they were well before my time and I’ve only heard them on recordings so it was very hard for me to add Wally to the list. It was also suggested that I state my criteria for choosing the four individuals on each part. I trying to choose the best singing voice. If I have trouble choosing between two individuals, I consider overall impact on barbershopping, longevity, and performance ability. This exercise is meant to be fun and to showcase some of the greatest barbershop quartet singers of all time. It’s my blog and my opinion, but that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it if you disagree with me! I was born in 1973 and the first barbershop quartet champion was crowned in 1939, so when I make the list sometimes I’m relying on recordings of quartets that I haven’t seen live in person.
I thought selecting the four “Mount Rushmore” of barbershop leads would be a lot easier than it turned out to be. I found it to be very difficult. I went back and forth on a couple of them and I wrote a draft of my blog and kept coming back to change it. I’m sure these choices will be obvious to some, while some may find that their favorites are left out. As a result, I added some “honorable mentions” at the end. Without further ado, let’s dive right in.
Joe Connelly, Interstate Rivals (1987), Keepsake (1992), Platinum (2000), and Old School (2011)
Putting Joe Connelly on this list is the most obvious choice for me. He’s the only man to win four gold medals singing lead. Nobody else has won three or more singing lead and only a couple have won twice singing lead.
Here’s a video of Joe’s first quartet, the Interstate Rivals, singing “What A Wonderful World.”
Here’s Joe’s second gold medal quartet, Keepsake, singing “Once Upon A Time.”
Here’s Joe’s third gold medal quartet, Platinum, singing “What’ll I do” on contest stage in Kansas City when they won in July of 2000.
And finally, here’s Joe’s fourth gold medal, winning with Old School in 2011 in Kansas City at the Sprint Center. 24 years after winning his first gold medal in 1987!
Bob Franklin, Suntones (1961)
The Suntones are widely considered one of the best barbershop quartets of all time and there is little debate about this. I bought their Masterworks album when I first joined the Society and listened to it all the time. There is also little debate among barbershoppers that lead Bob Franklin is one of the greatest of all time.
There aren’t many “old school” videos out there of the Suntones, however there is some pretty good audio out there. Here are a couple recordings that I found:
Drayton Justice, Gentlemen’s Agreement (1971)
I’m going with prevailing wisdom on this pick. Most older barbershoppers agree that Drayton is one of the best leads to ever do it. Check out the video of Gentlemen’s Agreement below. Around the 10 minute mark, Drayton is featured on “My Way.”
Drayton also filled in for Bob Franklin with the Suntones when Bob left the group. Here he is on the 1988 AIC show singing with the Suntones:
Kenny Hatton, Bluegrass Student Union
The Bluegrass Student Union is one of the best quartets of all time and lead Kenny Hatton was a big part of it. Not to mention they had one of the best basses of all time, but I’ve already covered that! The great part of writing a blog about this is that I don’t have to tell you why, I can show you with videos!
Here he is doing a famous Bluegrass Student Union tune, “The Auctioneer.”
One of the things I remember most about the Bluegrass Student Union was their “Music Man” set and Kenny playing the part of Harold Hill. Below is “Trouble.”
How do I limit Kenny Hatton to three videos? It’s very difficult. I just tried to think of and find three of my favorites. Here he is singing “Minnie The Moocher.”
It killed me to leave some of my favorite leads off of Mount Rushmore, leads like Mike Slamka, David Harrington, Rick Knight, Chris Vaughn, Eric Dalby and Tony DeRosa to name a few. I’ve got to limit it to four though! Hope you had fun reading and watching/listening.
Tenors and baritones are next. Till next time….