The Thoroughbred Chorus History

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                 James King Miller 1924 - 2011

The Thoroughbreds are a group of men dedicated to excellence in singing, musical education and the preservation and enrichment of a cappella harmony.  Also known as the Louisville No. 1 Chapter, the Thoroughbred Chorus are a non-profit 501(c)3 charitable organization, singing their style of a cappella harmony since 1945.  They have sung for dignitaries, civic functions, sporting events, as well as audiences of 4 to 13,000 in number and perform an annual show every December in downtown Louisville for their many friends, families and fans as well as delivering Singing Valentines every February and average 20 plus performances in the local area.  The chapter has produced several award winning quartets including the Bluegrass Student Union, Interstate Rivals, Second Edition and The Barons as well as Forefront with our director Drew Wheaton.  The Thoroughbreds have hosted the International Barbershop Convention twice in the past 20 years, right here in Louisville, KY.  The Louisville #1 Chapter had its beginning in 1945 after local businessman Fritz W. Drybrough invited a number of friends to his home on July 11 to listen to a once-popular style of music, barbershop harmony. The four-part close harmony, a cappella style of singing, had been in vogue from the turn of the century through the 1920s, but with the advancement of the electronic media, the "barbershop style", along with vaudeville, was steadily replaced by the crooners and big band of the swing era.

From that original gathering, and with the help of friend Ed Mall and then Society International President Jerry Beeler from Evansville, the Louisville Barbershop Chorus was conceived with a membership of 33 men under the direction of Burt Harmon and then Bob Ising. Drybrough served as the first president of the chapter. The Louisville #1 Chapter was part of The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA) founded by O.C. Cash, a Tulsa lawyer, in 1938. Mr. Cash presented the Louisville #1 Chapter with its charter on June 10, 1946.

The chapter became one of the largest chapters in the Society and in the early years presented shows with some of the best talent available. For example, in the 1951 annual show, the chorus sang only six songs, but there was a chapter quartet, a female quartet, a local dance troupe, and seven out-of-town quartets. The chapter grew to a membership of almost 300, but there were only about 100 men who sang on a regular basis. Most of the members seemed more interested in socializing than in improving their musical skills and, as a result, membership declined. By 1956 the singing chorus had decreased to about 60 men and chapter membership had shrunk to 150.

In 1957 there was a movement by some of the more serious-minded singers toward the goal of competitive excellence. It was at that time, in the midst of the decline, in September 1957, that the Thoroughbreds were born. The name "Thoroughbreds" was given to the new chorus by an original member who had registered the name for his quartet, which had since become inactive. The moniker suited the chapter's geographic location and became rather prophetic in light of the chorus' competitive track record.



They're off and singing!          


Album Sold in 1985


Ken Buckner and Allen Hatton co-directed the chorus to a third-place finish in 1987, and Allen Hatton was the director for second place finishes in 1988, 1989, and 1990, and a third place in 1992.

The decade of the 1990s and the early years of the new millennium were years of change and transition for the Thoroughbreds, in contrast to the relative stability of the musical leadership during the first three decades. In the 10 year period from 1993 to 2002, the chapter experienced six director changes from Allen Hatton to Ken Hatton in 1993, to Ken Buckner in 1996, to John Zehnder in 1997, to the co-directorship of Allen and Ken Hatton in 1998, to Allen Hatton in 2000 and Jay Hawkins in 2002, Dave Duncan from 2002 to 2010, now under the direction of  Drew Wheaton, tenor of the 2016 International Champion quartet Forefront. 

Competitively, though not able to maintain the level of success enjoyed by the chorus in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, The Thoroughbreds continued to make impressive showings during the 1990s. In San Francisco in 1990, the chorus tied for the championship, an event that was unprecedented. Based on a scoring decision, the chorus was placed second. In 1992 the chorus finished third in New Orleans and then finished sixth in Pittsburgh in 1994 and in Miami in 1995. After finishing eighth in Salt Lake City in 1996 the Thoroughbreds returned to the medals with a stunning fifth-place finish in Anaheim after qualifying as a wild-card entry.

From a performance standpoint, the Thoroughbreds continued to be in demand for civic and military functions. The chorus was a fixture at the opening performance at the Kentucky State Fair and helped to dedicated the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville. There were performances before Kentucky-Louisville basketball games in Freedom Hall and Rupp Arena and baseball games at Slugger Field. It debuted the University of Louisville spirit song. As a result of a renewed effort to become more involved in the affairs of Jeffersontown, the home of Jim Miller Hall, the chorus, in partnership with the city, sang for many special events and occasions. There were also performances for the Governor of the Commonwealth and during a special visit of President George H.W. Bush in 1991. The chorus also made memorable trips to the Bolton Landing New York Music Festival, to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Circleville, Ohio and to Union City, Tennessee.

The chapter served as the host of the Cardinal District Fall Convention in 1993 and 2003. After the highly successful International convention in 1991, which stood as the best attended convention up to that time, efforts were made to again host the convention. Those efforts were rewarded when the society chose Louisville to serve as the host city for the 2004 convention. Larry Knott served as the General Chairman of the convention in 1991 and Dave Duncan in 2004.

The chapter was visible at the highest levels of the Society during the 1980s and 1990s with chapter member Ernie Nickoson serving two terms as president, Ken Buckner serving as the Society's Coordinator of Events from 1987 to 1997, and Bill Myers serving as a Music Specialist for Quartets from 1985 to 1989. Warren Donaldson became the chapter's second international champion bulletin editor in 1997 and Jerry Daiker won in 2010 in the electronic division, an award that Jim Fulks won in 1980. In recognition for his outstanding work over many years, Fulks was named to the PROBE Hall of Honor. Other Thoroughbreds served in various capacities at the District level.

The chorus and chapter remain vibrant and competitive, creating great camaraderie, singing for thousands throughout the region, and frequently donating performances for charitable causes. The chapter supports Cardinal District and International functions and continues to play a leading role in the society.

The Thoroughbreds own and maintain a first class building, Jim Miller Hall, which was purchased by the chapter in July 1978. The hall is maintained for the benefit of the chorus and its members and it is available to organizations and individuals for rent. The chorus produces recordings of their works for the public and since 1958 the Thoroughbreds have produced an annual show on the first weekend in December, an event that has become a tradition for thousands as a part of their holiday celebration.