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Bob Bohn

A number of barbershoppers have expressed interest in knowing more about Bob Bohn, whose exceptional arrangements have given barbershoppers great enjoyment. Bob was the cornerstone of three time Medalist Easternaires Quartet. He sang bari and bass and was the arranger of practically every song they performed from 1954 to 1985.

Bob was introduced to SBEBSQSA in 1946 while he was still in high school. Completely mesmerized, he and a fellow classmate, Ray Michalski, formed a high school quartet called The Four Pages. They were members of the Society and represented the Manhattan, NY Chapter. They qualified for the 1950 International Contest that was held in Omaha Nebraska. After the Four Pages Bob sang with, the Stagecoach Four, from the Westfield, NJ, Chapter where he was introduced to Dan Heyburn. His barbershopping was interrupted by a tour of duty in the Army in Korea. Upon his return in 1954, he formed the "Easternaires" quartet with Dan Heyburn, tenor, Tom Dames lead and, from his original high school group, bass Ray Michalski. (Ray went on to become a featured bass at the Metropolitan Opera.)

What many may not know, is that Bob's initial musical development was a total product of the Society. At this point he had no formal musical training other than what he absorbed through SPEBSQSA. He was a natural musician and, from high school on, created all the arrangements for the quartet. In fact, the Easternaires sang Bohn arrangements almost exclusively from 1954 through 1985. The only exceptions, to my knowledge, were:

a. An arrangement by Wills Diekema of “Dreaming”, which the Easternaires sang in their first contest,
b. The Music Man songs, which they performed on Broadway,
c. The RCA album “Once Over Lightly” with about half the songs being arrangements by Ralph Hunter a professional arranger employed by RCA with an Instrumental background, and
d. an arrangement of "Bell in the Lighthouse". This was originally performed by the "Cleffdwellers" and "Hometown" quartets.

This is remarkable considering that the Easternaires performed for thirty years. So far we have identified over a hundred of Bob’s arrangements, many of which are now available through the Society and Ed Ryan.( tenor/lead with the quartet for many years).

As Bob's reputation as an arranger began to spread many quartets and chorus's began requesting that he do arrangements for them. Up to this time, he still had no formal training in arranging, but his creativeness enabled him to develop unique chord structures. Some of these arrangements caused consternation among members in the Society. His arrangements of Danny Boy, Joyce Kilmer’s Trees, Shenandoah, Bells of Saint Mary’s, to name a few, were considered too modern by some judges. However, several judges and accomplished Society musicians strongly defended Bob. This group contended that his arrangements could not be compared to the arrangements sung by “modern” vocal groups. They felt Bob's arrangements were an “evolution” to a more complex "contemporary" style of barbershop singing which the Society could embrace without jeopardizing the basic barbershop quartet fundamental of perpetuating four part, unaccompanied, vocal harmony.

In their first year the Easternaires performed on the then popular "Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout" TV show. (Which incidentally they won). While in a rehearsal for the Godfrey show, the Godfrey’s musical director, Jerry Bressler, was fascinated with Bob’s arrangement of Trees. He complemented Bob on the arrangement’s originality and asked if Bob would mind if he made a few changes to improve the musical flow. The changes were subtle but significant. The obvious improvement convinced Bob that he needed to go back to school. He graduated with a BA degree in music from Montclair State University. Barbershopping, however, was still Bob's first love. Bob continued to sing with the Easternaires through many personnel changes. He performed with the Easternaires on Broadway in the Music Man, replacing the Buffalo Bill’s when they left the show to make the movie. He also toured with the Music Man National Company. After the tour he began teaching music in the public school system, where he remained until he retired. Following a long illness, Bob died in November 1993.

Despite the passing of time, Bob's arrangements live on, with many young quartets and young and old barbershoppers singing his arrangements and tags. Bob was a musician's musician and some kind souls have said that the Easternaires were a quartet's quartet. Now Bob's work is not only more generally accepted, but also in many cases revered. We constantly hear that Bob was “just ahead of his time”. The remaining Easternaires members only wish that Bob could be with us to hear some of the wonderful comments about his music. There was a tribute to Bob and the Easternaires at the Mid-Winter in Jacksonville. It was greatly appreciated by the surviving members of the quartet. Six of us who performed with the quartet were present on the stage that day. We hope Bob heard the moving introductory remarks by Bob Franklin and the outstanding rendition of Bob Bohn’s arrangement of Heather on the Hill, sung by the International Champion Keepsake. George Gipp directed a chorus of over 100 plus voices, including Keepsake and the Easternaires survivors, singing Bob’s arrangement of Impossible Dream.

In Bob's early barbershopping years, the thought of a Society sanctioned barbershop performance, in his honor, was truly an impossible dream. I can’t tell you how much the remaining members appreciated George Gipp, the Jacksonville Chapter and all those responsible for the Mid Winter Convention that made it possible.

Anyone who knew Bob would agree that it was a privilege to know him. One of a kind, incredibly talented, fun loving, liking the good life, often inflexible. But always having intense love and respect for both the roots and potential of Barbershop singing, the Society’s prodigal son. He loved it, but it didn’t often understand or love him. When it came to integrity, maintaining his principles, or being your trusted friend, Bob was unsurpassed.

We miss him but he will always be with us in his music.

Tom Dames
Oct 2000

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