Waco Barbershop Quartet celebrates 22 years of harmony and hum
The Brazos Knights barbershop quartet has performed for 22 years in Central Texas. The current foursome has been together since 2007. They are Art Reinking (from left), Terry Ermoian, Jim Ferguson and Dick Belanger. (Photo by Rod Aydelotte)
For Terry Ermoian and Art Reinking with the Brazos Knights Barbershop Quartet, 22 years of bringing harmony and humor to Central Texas is what the group lives for. It's a pastime they plan to continue until they stop breathing, they said.
"We tell corny jokes and offer people healthy entertainment," Ermoian said. "That is a commodity that is hard to find today."
The barbershop quartet today is made up of four parts: Ermoian, the lead singer; Reinking, who sings tenor; Dick Belanger, baritone; and Jim Ferguson, bass.
Ermoian and Reinking still remain from the original group, which formed in 1992 when they decided with two other men to get together to sing in the Seniors Southwestern District competition for the Barbershop Society in Dallas.
Rounding out that original quartet were Bob Talley, a baritone, and Charlie Barrett, who sang bass.
After being together for only six months, that group placed third in an area competition that encompassed five states. Ermoian said that accomplishment is what kick-started the beginning of the Brazos Knights Quartet, which kept the original foursome performing for 10 years.
Talley retired from the group 2002 because of a busy travel schedule that kept him from being unable to perform consistently. Barrett was forced to quit in 2004 because of health issues. The group quickly found new members, though.
Ferguson took over on bass after Barrett left. The group has had three other baritones after Talley left until Belanger came on board in 2007.
"At first, we sang everywhere we could," Ermoian said. "Like in Bible states, wherever two people gather, the Brazos Knights would perform. I think if I said that we performed over 300 times during that time it would be pretty close."
The quartet has performed at numerous venues in Waco over the years: Baylor's Ferrell Center and Floyd Casey Stadium, The Brazos Club, Waco Civic Theatre,Ridgewood Country Club, Waco Knife and Fork Club, Brazos Forum and various hospitals and nursing homes.
But the quartet performs at many small private parties as well, and the middle of February is always busy thanks to its popular "Valentunes" program. The quartet is hired to provide a Valentine's Day-themed treat to a lucky recipient; the men serenade the woman with a couple of love songs, and give her a box of chocolate, a rose and a Valentine's card.
Ermoian said the quartet averages 10-15 Valentunes gigs around Valentine's Day each year.
"I still have people stop me on the street and say, 'You don't remember me, but you sang me a love song and it was one of the highlights of my life.' That makes you feel really good," Ermoian said.
One of his favorite Valentunes memories is singing to Baylor women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey in an upstairs meeting room at Floyd Casey Stadium. Mulkey was giving a speech to more than 500 people on that particular Valentine's Day.
"Somebody called and asked if we would sing to her, and we really didn't have time in our schedule that day, but we skipped lunch to do it," Ermoian recalled. "Her speech was lasting a while and we had another gig to get to, so we had to take the stage and interrupt her."
Ermoian and his harmonious entourage walked right up onto the stage, and he took the microphone out of her hand.
"She turned and looked at me like she was gonna knock me on my bum, and said, 'Who are you?'" Ermoian recalled.
The quick-witted and charming Ermoian was prepared with a one-liner response.
"There we were, four old men in tuxedos. We looked like penguins. So you know what I said to her? 'We're the Chippendale dancers senior division, ma'am," he said with a chuckle.
Ermoian proceeded to sit her down. He got down on one knee and sang to her with his accompaniment behind him singing harmony.
"When we finished, I gave her the mic and she went right back to her speech without missing a beat," he said. "I guess she's used to dealing with interruptions like that."
Ermoian said there were many memorable moments from the past 20 years, but some other favorites were singing a marriage proposal to an elementary school teacher and getting to perform on national television, reaching millions on his sons' television program, "All You Can Eat Texas Music Cafe."
"My three sons (Jeff, T.J. and Chris) had, to my knowledge, the only nationally syndicated TV show out of Waco," Ermoian said. "(It reached) over 90 million people weekly on PBS and in 167 foreign countries on the Armed Forces Service Network."
The show taped live weekly in a recording studio on Franklin Avenue from 1997 to 2002.
The group's biggest thrill, however, was being asked to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" on opening night of the Heart O' Texas Fair and Rodeo in 2011 in the HOT Coliseum.
The Brazos Knights are part of the Barbershop Harmony Society, historically and legally named the Barbershop Harmony Society Inc. It was founded in 1938, and nearly 25,000 men of all ages in the United States and Canada are members of the organization.
Since the organizations move to Nashville in 2007, Ermoian said the image and perception of the barbershop quartet is evolving.
"The whole image of who we are is changing," he said. "People think barbershops are just a bunch of old farts standing around a barbershop in striped shirts singing. But we do stuff by the Beatles, we do country, we do comedy it's more than what people think."
No matter the image or perception, Ermoian said the fun or providing entertainment is what keeps the group around after all these years.
"The enjoyment of entertaining other people is what we live for," he said. "We are such hams that when we get up in the morning and turn on the bathroom lights, we take four curtain-call bows."
Ermoian said the key to keeping people coming back and lasting as long as the Brazos Knights have is enjoying what they do.
"When you're having fun, people read that," he said. "Plus, it's a scientific fact that barber shoppers live five years longer. That comes from our breathing and our good attitudes."
It isn't always perfect, though, as any group of imperfect people working together can be, he said. Ermoian said a quartet is kind of like marriage you have to work to make it work.
"The key is just to not look back, trust God and step out in faith," he said.
Somehow they've all stayed committed to their common love for singing, and they're still going after two decades with the end nowhere in sight.
Reinking, the other remaining original member, said it's the magic of the sound of a quartet that keeps him going all these years. He explained that when everybody hits their note right, it sounds like there are more than four people singing.
"We call it ringing a chord," he said. "It just does something to you."
So as long as they are ringing a chord, the Brazos Knights hope to have a lot more Valentunes and gigs left in them.
"Our dream is to keep going until the Lord calls us home," Ermoian said. "We have a combined age between the four guys of 300 years, so most people are amazed we're even still breathing."
Brazos Knights barbershop quartet
Valentunes: To schedule a Valentunes visit for Valentines Day (recipient is serenaded with two songs, receives Valentine's card, rose and box of chocolates), Cost is $50 for anytime those days or $65 for a specific time.
Other events: To book other singing events with the group, call Terry Ermoian at 254-751-9360.