|The Balladaires were a popular singing group at Big Rapids High School in 1962-1964.|
The 1963 Big Rapids High School Year Book (Rapidonian) supplement said, "For the second year in a row, the Balladaires brought down the house with such nifty songs as 'Farewell, My Tani', 'Puttin' on the Style', and 'Greenback Dollar'."
The BRHS Rapidonian's description of Gordy Brown's selection as one of the outstanding seniors of the class of 1964 included a note that he was a member of "a vocal group that has become famous at our school". That was the Balladaires.
The roots of the Balladaires were in a group organized by Gordy Brown to sing in the 1961 Big Rapids High School Band Follies, an annual variety show presented by members of the band. Simply called "Boys Sing" on the program created by band director Aldie Long, the group performed "Sentimental Journey".
The original members of this group were Gordy Brown, Gordy Everitt, Vern Sorenson (who sang the bass parts), Bruce Freiburg, and Tom Swears. Prior to the Band Follies, Glen Newton joined the group, singing and playing the ukulele on "The Ballad of the MTA". The ukulele was a questionable addition to the group, because it went out of tune and Glen had to tune it on stage as the group sang. (Carol Dennison, one of Glen's classmates, later commented that she remembered him tuning the uke more than the actual singing.) Glen was in 8th grade.
The following year, the group had become a quartet. Vern had moved away, and Bruce, who had sung the previous year primarily because he was Gordy Brown's best friend, had decided to concentrate on sports. Tom Swears dropped out and John King joined. At the time he had a tenor voice, but by 1964 he had the lowest voice of the group.
In addition, Glen started playing the bigger baritone ukulele, one of several instruments he bought from Sears Roebuck. Tuned the same as the top four strings of a guitar, it was suitable for a much wider range of songs than the standard ukulele. Glen was well aware of the musical attributes of the instrument because his brother, Jim, twelve years his senior, had been somewhat of an expert on the baritone ukulele in high school, playing bass notes on beats one and three and chords on the upper strings on two and four while singing or whistling the melody.
Gordy Brown figured the group needed a name. The suggestion the group liked best came from Glen's mother: "You could call the group the Balladaires, because you sing ballads and airs."
|For the 1962 Band Follies, Dan Kirchner accompanied on electric guitar and Glen played string bass as the group performed "Greenfields" and "Come Back, Silly Girl". From left to right in this picture from the 1962 Rapidonian are Dan, John, Glen, Gordy Everitt, and Gordy Brown. The Balladaires also sang the humorous songs "Sweet Violets" and "Sama Kama Wacky Brown," copied from Brothers Four records, in the 1962 Band Follies.|
Here's a sample of the Balladaires' on-stage patter:
Brown (spoken): This music is brought to you by ...
Everitt (sung on B below middle C, sustained): Gordy ...
Brown (sung on the G below, sustained): Gordy ...
King (sung on the D below that, sustained): John ...
Newton (sung on the G below that, after which all cut off): Glen
Everitt (spoken, making a gesture to indicate a rocket taking off): John Glenn? Whoossshh.
And another example, from a concert performance made after the group had become very popular at the school:
The Balladaires take the stage for the first time in the concert, receiving thunderous applause, followed by...
Everitt: Thank you! For our next song, we'd like to sing ...
Brown (interrupting him): For our next song, we'd like to SING!
Audience: Uproarious laughter and giggles.
Jack King, John's father, recommended that the group sing some of the Chad Mitchell Trio songs. That's where the group got "Puttin' on the Style". In contrast, "Farewell, My Tani" came from a Brothers Four album, and "Greenback Dollar" was a Kingston Trio hit.
By the next year, Dan Kirchner had graduated, Glen was playing guitar to accompany the group, Gordy Everitt had learned 4-string guitar, and John played banjo (shown in the picture at the top of the page) and string bass.
Brown and Everitt graduated in 1964, so there were no Balladaires in the 1965 Band Follies. But there was an offshoot of the Balladaires. King and Newton sang "What Have They Done to the Rain?" and another song with Sue Draysee and Bob Huxol in the 1965 Band Follies, accompanied by Glen's guitar and John's bass.
On July 18, 2008, after a 44-minute rehearsal (one minute for each year since they had last performed together), the Balladaires presented a 20-minute reunion concert at the Original Dulcimer Players Club Funfest in Evart, Michigan. Gordy Everitt played 6-string guitar and sang lead, and the rest sang a variety of lead and harmony parts. Glen also played 6-string guitar and John played bodhran (the only drum allowed at the festival) on some selections. Dan Kirchner accompanied on guitar and Wes Linenkugel played string bass. Their program consisted of six songs:
|The Balladaires in 2008, counterclockwise from top left: John King, Gordy Brown, Glen Newton, and Gordy Everitt.|