Early SenateAires - 1956

A Chorus is Born


A friend recently asked me if I had more of the history of the SenateAires as he was writing a paper on vocal music in the Northwest.  We dug around in the archives (Thanks, Hardin!), and found this article written by one of the long-time members of the SenateAires, Andy Staat, in August 1994.  It was entitled “Salem Senate-Aires Beginnings”  I found it a very interesting read, and hope you will enjoy it as well:


Group singing of barbershop songs was first heard in Salem in the long since defunct Isaac Walton Clubhouse which overlooked both Pringle Creek and its Park at 500 South Cottage Street. The building no longer exists, and a low-income high-rise apartment building has taken its place.A couple dozen men, mostly Rotarians, promoted the idea of forming a barbershop chorus chapter in June of 1953. A World War I veteran, Ted Nelson, was their “knowledgeable sparkplug.”

Infrequent sing-along meetings were held by interested parties in this clubhouse the rest of that year and for the first eight months of 1954. A request for chartering an S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. chapter was answered by the then barbershopper’s International Secretary, Bob Hafer: “Line up at least 25 enthusiastic men who want to go for it!”

This was done, and on November 10th of 1954 the Salem SenateAires sang themselves into being at Morningside School. Through the payment of $5 dues by 28 charter members, Kenosha, Wisconsin officials granted us membership into their unique and illustrious singing society. [In actuality $120 included a $50 charter fee; the $2.50 per member assessment, totaling $70 was to pay for the Harmonizer’s” publication, plus general expenses.]  We were sponsored by the Eugene-Springfield Chapter, whose incomparable and well-liked chorus leader, Bud Leabo, was destined to take us to International Competition in San Antonio, Texas in 1964, and later was to become our twelfth chorus director from 1978 to his untimely death in 1981.

Our first “home” was a room in the old Marion Hotel basement. First officers were Dr. Don Foster (dentist), as President, with Dr. Walter Snyder (school superintendent), as his assistant, Cliff Ingham (realtor) was Secretary-Treasurer, while George Dow (Motor Vehicles Division worker), was librarian.  Maurice Adams (high school music teacher), was Chorus Director. All but Maurice were bass singers. Like tenors now, Maurice was a rarity then – a never heard of picked-on baritone! Our only non-singer (called a “Crow”), was Roger Williams. He owned and managed a local bakery at the corner of Broadway and Market Streets, which has since been turned into an Eagles’ Lodge.

First chorus uniforms consisted of all-black equipment except for white shirts and white waiter’s vests. These had three gold buttons on each side. Incidentally, it wasn’t until the death, by auto accident, of our second Chorus Director, Dick McClintic, that we exchanged these restaurant uniforms for showy watermelon-red coats over white shirts with black bow ties, along with black pants and shoes. Red ruffled shirts were a change-off from whites a little later.

First sing-out was M.C.’d by Dave Hoss, a radio personality and charter member as well. Naturally, the occasion was “Charter Night,” held in Morningside School’s auditorium.

In addition to chorus members by Salem and Eugene-Springfield chapters, Maurice Adams and Mel Bedsaul played clarinet and banjo, respectively. Both men, plus Don Foster and Larry Miller (tenor) sang as A “Chord Cats” quartet and were as enthusiastically applauded as Bud Leabo’s “Scrap Iron Four,” and a Portland chapter’s more experienced and polished foursome.

The “Chord Cats” were the first to organize and sing in public. Other quartets formed soon afterward, yours truly being a lead singer in one known as “The Four Idle Bum Bums.” Our chapter has continued to encourage and spawn quartets for forty years now – many singing with distinction in area, District and International competitions.

From this small, dedicated group of charterers, leadership has never been lacking, and our chapter has had steady growth and much success – a public favorite in its many singing appearances here in Salem and elsewhere.

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