When thousands of singers representing hundreds of barbershop quartets from around the world gathered in Orlando, Florida, two weeks ago, they paused for a moment during their four-day convention to salute Ted Bradshaw of Ahwatukee.
They marked a half-century since Bradshaw and his three singing mates in the Western Continentals won the international competition that has always been a part of the 80-year-old Barbershop Harmony Society’s annual convention.
Not only did the Western Continentals beat out dozens of competitors back then, but they did it only four years after forming.
They were bound for glory almost from the time they started singing together in 1964, winning a district competition that year. A year later, they placed eighth in the internationals. Two years later, they won the silver and they sang their way to the gold the following year at the society’s annual convention in Cincinnati.
Singing has dominated Bradshaw’s 84 years.
He met his wife, Shirley, in a choir in the town where they grew up, outside Columbus, Ohio.
He earned a Fulbright Scholarship to study for a year at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937.
He made it to the finals in rehearsals for the New York Metropolitan Opera one year.
He’s performed all over the country and at a few stops abroad. He sang the lead role of Don Jose in the Arizona Opera Company’s first production of “Carmen” in 1976.
He sang in musicals and in church choirs.
He and the Western Continentals even got on national TV in 1984, appearing on the “Jimmy Dean Show” on New Year’s Eve.
Bradshaw figures there were years when half his weekends were spent on the road with the Western Continentals, performing in competitions and concerts.
He did this all because he liked to sing.
“My wife will tell you it was a lot of commitment on her part,” said Bradshaw, recalling how he often would be on the road, leaving his wife to care for two of their four children in the early years of their marriage. “She was home raising two boys, cutting the grass and working to pay the bills and I’m out there singing.”
Asked why she did it, Shirley is matter of fact in her reply: “I really didn’t have any choice. We got along and I loved him and I know he loved singing.”
For all that love of singing, none of the couple’s three sons share their father’s passion and their daughter has perfected her musical talent on the clarinet – not voice.
Bradshaw began singing in barbershop quartets during his first full-time job after high school at Owens Corning Glass in Newark, Ohio.
“They had a company chorus and the director of the chorus was on the faculty at Denison University,” he recalled. “He came over to me after chorus rehearsal one night and asked if I would come in and sing tenor in his barbershop quartet.”
Told they needed a tenor, Bradshaw went and liked the “bunch of real nice gentlemen he met.”
And in the music they made, he said, he found “the joy of the sounds of heaven.”
After moving to Arizona in 1957, Bradshaw eventually hooked up three other barbershop singers. In 1964, the Continentals were born, with him as lead singer – a position that basically provides the melody in a performance.
He also found a new line of work in data processing and eventually ended up working in the airline industry.
He saw a big difference early on in the barbershop quartet scene between the West and where he grew up.
“Back on the East Coast, barbershop guys can drive 50 to 200 miles one way and visit 20 to 30 barbershop chapters. They’re all over the place,” he said. “Out here, we had to go to California just to get to a barbershop competition.”
But all that has changed not just in the West but around the world.
“There is barbershop singing throughout the world and now has grown to the point where most countries have their own barber society,” he said.
Eventually, Bradshaw gave up singing in barbershop quartets, but “somewhere in the last five to 10 years I started singing with a Phoenix chorus.”
But soon age took its toll.
“You’re spending like three hours on rehearsal night standing on the risers and my legs gave out,” he said.
But a few years ago, he had to quit, noting his voice had become “real gravelly.”
“I still mumble along with my church choir and that type of stuff,” he said wistfully. “But basically I can’t sing anymore.”
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