Appalachian Express Chorus
Once, in a time long ago when America was much younger and times were much simpler than they are today, a form of music existed known as barbershop. The four-part harmonies and dapper attire of the men in these choral groups have become so well known within American culture that they are parodied in almost every entertainment medium from television to the theater arts.
On June 9th, Johnson County was treated to its own nostalgic look at the days of barbershop, provided by The Appalachian Express Chorus. The show was presented by Heritage Hall and sponsored by The Tomahawk and Mountain City Funeral Home. A delighted audience of local residents and visitors from afar were treated to a night of singing, comedy, and harmony for all.
The first act of the show was performed as a kind daydream skit, looking back thoughtfully at the progression of barbershop music through the years. The lights came up on the stage, introducing the audience to an old time radio studio, complete with vintage microphones and an “on air” neon sign. The era was the 1930’s. “Welcome to W-E-A-K radio, the weakest radio station around,” proclaimed the D.J. at his post. The initial introduction, done in professional D.J. style, incited laughter throughout the audience. A nod was given to the traditional advertising of the times, as a narrator introduced the program as “The Oscar Meyer Harmony Hour.” Some of the members of the chorus began to sing the Oscar Meyer wiener theme. From the first note sang the audience was hooked.
The following portions of the first act followed the same scheme as the years progressed and newer songs of newer eras were sung. In the 1946 segment a nod was given to “a song that helped us through many years of terror and war.” “Zippity Do Da” was then performed by the chorus with great skill. After this, they broke into a rendition of “Precious Lord,” a song made famous by Rosetta Tharp, arguably considered the first lady of gospel music.
As the era shifted into the 1950’s the radio began to echo the times. A looser and free-spoken D.J. introduced the program as the “Harry Hipster Hour.” This particular segment drew a lot of crowd pleasers from the chorus. Chevrolet was the fictional sponsor and was presented as such in traditional 50’s manner, with a backing chorus singing a Chevy radio jingle. Next the chorus broke into a very upbeat version of “All I Have to Do is Dream” by the Everly Brothers. This segment was closed by a cheerful melody called “Just in Time” from the musical “Bells Are Ringing.”
Next came the 1960’s, an era remembered for peace, love, and most of all great music. The chorus performed these numbers with great virtuosity. “Mary Lou” by Ricky Nelson brought a little more force to the show. At this point the D.J. announced the arrival of a big star to the stage, Willie Nelson, a member of the chorus impersonating him at least. As the man began to sing, the magic of theater took over. For three minutes, Willie Nelson was truly performing upon our stage. The rendition of “Always on My Mind” by the artist himself was beautiful and one of the greatest highlights of the show that night. The first act closed with the sixties’ classic “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.”
As the lights came up on the second half of the show, a more formal approach was taken. The men of the Appalachian Express Chorus came to the stage wearing tuxedos and took their places on the risers behind them. First a few statements of gratitude were made and a very lucky lady in the audience received a birthday song in four-part harmony.
The chorus began singing a rendition of “What a Wonderful World” by Louie Armstrong. The inspiring classic brought a tear to every eye in the house, allowing us all to take a moment and remember that yes, it is indeed a wonderful world. Next, a laugh was allowed as the chorus performed “Tom Dooley.” The song describes a narrative set within Johnson County and was done as a sort of tribute to our town from the chorus.
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