Diamond State Chorus

The Diamond State Chorus is the performance group of the Greater Little Rock Chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. (SPEBSQSA). The international men’s singing group, also known as the Barbershop Harmony Society, has more than 34,000 members. It was founded on April 11, 1938, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The local chapter is a grandchild of the Memphis, Tennessee, chapter. In 1952, seven barbershoppers from Memphis went to Stuttgart (Arkansas County) to start a chapter. The subsequent Grand Prairie Chorus attracted the attention of a quartet from Little Rock (Pulaski County)—The Four Specs—which made the 120-mile round trip to Stuttgart for a couple of years before deciding to form a chapter in Little Rock. The original four were Fred Holder Jr., Dr. Joe Norton, William Bard, and Richard H. Hawn. Two dozen other men attended the first meeting in Little Rock. The Greater Little Rock Chapter was chartered on March 5, 1955.

That group chose as its name the Capitol City Chorus. In the early 1970s, the chapter changed its name to the Diamond State Chorus. It was part of the Dixie District when it was formed but was switched to the Southwest District in 1978. Arkansas has four other Barbershop Harmony Society chapters: Greater Ozarks, based in Bentonville (Benton County); Northwest Arkansas, based in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties); Greater Fort Smith (Sebastian County); and Hot Springs (Garland County).

The Diamond State Chorus at any one time has forty to fifty singers who perform as a single group and in several four-man quartets, singing tenor, lead, baritone, and bass. Members, who range in age from the twenties to the eighties, are from throughout central Arkansas, from Clarksville (Johnson County) and Hot Springs to Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and Jacksonville (Pulaski County). Members include students, doctors, accountants, lawyers, mechanics, social workers, corporate executives, and retirees. They specialize in the close-knit, a cappella harmony that is the signature of barbershop singing.

The chorus has won many competitions as part of the Northeast Region of the Southwestern District of the Barbershop Harmony Society. District winners—both chorus and quartet—earn the right to compete at the annual national convention.

The chorus performs primarily in the greater Little Rock area, singing for church groups, civic functions, and business events. In a typical year, the chorus appears before more than 3,000 people in more than twenty performances. It has opened events, such as ribbon cuttings and grand openings, sung at the opening and halftime at sporting events, and provided entertainment for conventions and other meetings.

The group meets most Monday evenings, practicing its singing and showmanship. All males are welcome to attend, from teenagers to retirees. The chorus earns income through paid performances, annual dues, an annual show, singing Valentines, and corporate sponsors. The money is used to provide scholarships for young musicians and for such expenses as music and a director. The annual show features the chorus, each of its quartets, and often an award-winning guest quartet from out of state.

Each February, quartets from the chorus offer singing Valentines, which cost $40 to $100; they include “a romantic song, a sentimental card and an instant photograph.” The chorus cooperates with the Top of the Rock Chorus, its female counterpart, to give buyers a choice of a male or a female quartet.

For additional information:
Arts on Tour. https://www.arkansasheritage.com/arkansas-art-council/registry-rosters/arts-on-tour/diamond-state-chorus (accessed August 10, 2023).

Barbershop Harmony Society. http://www.barbershop.org (accessed August 10, 2023).

C. Dennis Schick
North Little Rock, Arkansas


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