Sons of the Severn to appear on Channel 22 tonight


Ed Sutton, a former construction worker, never thought about singing publicly until his mail carrier took him to a Sons of the Severn Barbershop Chorus rehearsal.

"I fell in love with it," said the 52-year-old contractor from Glen Burnie.

Now, 25 years after getting a taste of a cappella, Mr. Sutton and the Sons of the Severn will be featured at 8 p.m. today on a Maryland Public Television broadcast on Channel 22. Ten other a cappella groups from around the state also will appear on "That Barbershop Sound!" Dan Rodricks, columnist for The Sun, will be the host of the hour-long show.

"We feel quite honored to be chosen," said Larry Duggan, the group's musical director and lead singer. "It's a nice compliment."

Marilyn Phillips, the show's producer, said she heard "great things" about Sons of the Severn and was not disappointed.

"They were very willing to do what we wanted," she said. "We made them go into a church basement on a hot, steamy night with no air conditioning and sing in the heat. We got a lot of great shots."

The 45-member group is one of 10 barbershop choruses in the state that belong to the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America. The national organization has more than 34,000 members in 808 chapters in North America.

The Anne Arundel chapter, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary, makes about 20 appearances a year. Most occur during the Christmas season at nursing homes and shopping malls.

Barbershop-style singing began in 1843 when four Virginia men formed a traveling minstrel group that spawned other troupes, according to Mr. Duggan. Vaudeville a cappella acts became popular during the early part of this century, inspiring even the most timid men to try a tune, said Mr. Duggan, 50, a vending-business owner from Severna Park.

"We call it 'woodshedding,' " he said. "It's taken from the fact that it was done very informally and started with guys singing out there behind the woodshed."

Mr. Duggan, who sings lead for "Cruisin'," one of the group's a cappella quartets, is quick to counter the argument that the barbershop style is dying.

"I would say that it's alive and well," he said. "Our society is still a place where people can go and sing with other people in a four-part harmony. This area has long been a stronghold for barbershop activity."

But he added: "The really discouraging fact is that we get guys who tells us, 'I wish I had known about you guys earlier.' Some people have said we're the world's best-kept secret."

For Mr. Sutton, a bass singer, a cappella has become a family affair. Two of his wife's brothers and two of her cousins sing in other barbershop groups. His daughter, Beth, a 24-year-old teacher at Glen Burnie High School, sings for the Elkridge chapter of Sweet Adelines International, a female a cappella group.

At rehearsal, he is joined by his son, John, 28, and his father-in-law, John Cunningham, 70. Mr. Sutton said he cherishes the time spent singing with his family, especially his son.

"I don't have much in common with him now that's he's 28 years old," he said. "He's a computer programmer, and I'm a contractor. This is a thing we can still do together."

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