By ROBIN CAUDELL Press-Republican
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Cumberland Bay Barbershop Chorus trips down memory lane with “Jamming with Bob Brooks,” Saturday evening’s program at the E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium.
Brooks, a lead singer, has been a member of the chorus for more than 50 years.
“The show is dedicated to his service in the chorus,” said Chris Kelly, publicity and marketing chairperson for the chorus.
“For the theme of the show, we all come into Bob’s basement and we start going through his record collection. As a record is pulled out, we talked a little bit about what the song is and then the chorus will sing that particular song.”
Melodies such as “Georgia on my Mind,” “Zip a De Doo Dah” and “Paper Moon” invokes nostalgic memories.
“We reminisce with him, and as we get into it, he reminisces with us,” Kelly said. “He will sing from his chair or get up to sing songs with us. We’re singing songs going back to the ’30s and ’50s to songs of the rock ‘n’ roll era to the Beach Boys.”
Saturday’s evening program also features the Sweet Adelines and SUNY Plattsburgh’s Minor Adjustments.
“We have a quartet in our chorus called the Philharmonix,” Kelly said. “That’s made up of four guys in our chorus. We have a guest quartet we’re bringing in. That’s Trade Secret, an international award-winning barbershop quartet.”
Brooks’ back story begins in Dannemora, his birthplace. A 1943 graduate of Dannemora High School, he entered the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was a fire-control man on the starboard side of the USS Topeka. Most of his wartime action was in the Pacific Theater.
“I operated off Okinawa and was in two major battles off the island of Japan,” Brooks said. “We bombarded the island of Honshu and Nashima Saki on July 18, 1945.”
After the war, Brooks was an accountant at Republic Steel before joining the New York State Department of Corrections.
He married Lois Ann Highland on June 7, 1952.
“I met her in Chateaugay at the Hollywood,” Brooks said. “I was a boat racer, and her father invited me up because he was going to have a regatta on the lake and wanted me to assist him with setting up the buoys. I met her at the end of the bar. She always commented that I was drinking orange juice.”
One thing led to another.
“We lived happily ever after,” Brooks said.
They are the parents of two, grandparents of five and great-grandparents twice over.
Lois Ann is the reason he’s sung the last five decades.
“She and the children attended a Cumberland Bay Barbershop show in the ‘50s while I was away in Albany for a meeting.”
Lois Ann was impressed by the a capella four-part harmony.
“She said, ‘They have 30 members, and there will be 31 because you’re going to join. There’s no question about it. I want you there,’” Brooks recalled. “I lived happily ever after with the Barbershoppers over the years. I can sit back now. It was a nice time. I can readily say that I have laughed and smiled all my life and naturally lived it up because that’s what music will do for you.”
During his first two decades in the group, Brooks served as a member of the Board of Directors, chapter president, area counselor on four occasions and division vice-president.
In the late ’60s, he was lead in a quartet, The Impromptone, with Warren Chase (bass), Dr. Charles Dilzer (tenor) and Dr. Shelton Hagar (baritone).
“You know without Lois Ann’s insistence, I don’t know if I would be singing,” Brooks said.
During Saturday’s performance, Brooks will be assisted by Dan Gallo.
“He calls me dad,” Brooks said. “He’s my adopted son. Everyone in that picture (above), I was there when they came there in the chorus. Every one of them is talented, and I’m very proud to be with them as with all the chorus members I’ve been with.”
There’s no one left who started with him.
“Many have gone to other areas of the country or have passed away,” Brooks said. “We’ve had as many as 70 people over the years. Great directors, too. Lucian Bernard, his tenure was longer than anyone. Jimmy Varno was a great guy. Andy Soulia, Arnie Burdeau, Dr. Victor Ludwig and many more; these are guys I paled around a little bit with.”
When he was a young fellow, Brooks sang in high-school glee club and church.
“As a Barbershopper, it was a complete new situation for me,” he said. “They tell you it’s easy. It’s very difficult, in a way, if you want to do it right.”
Right means practice-practice-practice and jamming after rehearsals.
“We meet on our own in a restaurant or basement,” Brooks said. “We sit on each side of the table. We watch how we pronounce words and our expressions to try to get it to sound like one.”
Email Robin Caudell:firstname.lastname@example.orgIF YOU GO WHAT: The Cumberland Bay Barbershop Chorus presents "Jamming with Bob Brooks," featuring special guests the Sweet Adelines, Minor Adjustments and Trade Secret. WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday. WHERE: E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium, Hawkins Hall, SUNY Plattsburgh. ADMISSION: $12 general admission and $10 seniors. CONTACT: Call 593-3686, or visit www.cumberlandbay.org.