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Saturday, September 6, 2014


The 1974 LA High Roman Track Squad May Have Been One of the Best in The City’s History – But We Will Never Know

Forty years ago, Los Angeles High School fielded a track and field team for the ages – an incredible collection of wonderful athletes and solid young men that made other schools green with envy.  The team was talented, with depth in every event.  It had great sprinters, fine distance runners and a super-deep field events team.  They were champions of the Southern League, and the Romans were poised to make a run at defending city champs Gardena High.

But it was not to be.  Fate intervened.  But we will get to that later.

First, let’s put 1974 in perspective.  With the publication of All the Presidents Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Richard Nixon was hanging on to the presidency by his fingernails as the investigations around the Watergate break-in and cover up intensified.  Bread was 26 cents per loaf.  A gallon of gas cost 55 cents.  The Los Angeles Lakers traded Brian Winters, Junior Bridgeman and Dave Meyers to the Milwaukee Bucks for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who do you think got the best of that deal?).  The U.S. was in the final phase of its pullout from Viet Nam.

Meanwhile at L.A. High, the school was in the third year of its transitional period.  Gone was the classic collegiate gothic brick building with its famed tower; a victim of the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and subsequent arson fire.  It was replaced temporarily by a series of boxy yet fairly comfortable bungalows at the east and west ends of campus.  Where the building once stood, there was a parking lot, volleyball and basketball courts.  The gyms, cafeteria, shop building, Harrison and Memorial Halls and the Housh Field (including the east bleachers which are now gone) were all that remained from the old school.  In 1973, ground was broken for the new building and the campus during 1974 - my senior year - was, well…..a mess, with construction fences closing off half of the campus.  With all of the distractions going on, L.A. High was still a beacon of academic and athletic excellence.  At that time, L.A. graduated 98% of its seniors with many of those going on to four-year colleges and universities.  Compare that to an abysmal 55% graduation rate at the school today.  But that is for another discussion.

And then there were the sports.  In the winter, first-year coach John Watson guided the football team to the league title behind all-city receivers Ricky Odom and Homer Butler, quarterback Baron Farwell and a host of others.  Hank Pollard’s tennis team, Robert Carey’s swim squad and Jim Panger’s cross country teams also won league titles.  We also had a pretty damn good girls’ basketball team staring the amazing Anita Ortega that finished third in the city playoffs.  But this was long before Title IX and girls’ sports got little recognition back then.

And then, there was our track team. Between 1930 and 1970, L.A. had been a traditional city power.  The 1969 Romans were the California state champions.  They were led by Albert Hearvy and Ronnie Welch who helped set the city record for the 440-yard relay with a time of 41.8.  That same year great Robert Pullard set the city record in the pole vault of 16-7 (a record that I believe still stands for the city section).  If that name sounds familiar, Robert’s brother Hayes (class of ’69) was a terrific basketball player at Rome and Hayes son - also named Hayes - is currently an all-Pac 12 linebacker at USC.  After a couple of mediocre seasons, L.A. came back with a vengeance in 1973, taking the Southern League title from the favorite Fremont and finishing third place in the state meet.  The ’73 team was a veteran squad that featured senior sprinters Charles Clement and Cornelius Pryor, hurdler and pole vaulter Jack Mosby, junior shot-putter Edwin Lewis and many more. 

But the unquestioned star of that team was junior Randall Jeffrey.  A freakishly gifted athlete, Jeffrey made the varsity in 1972 as a 10th grader (rare in those days) and despite battling back spasms and an ankle injury was still among the city’s best hurdlers that year.  In ’73, a healthy Jeffrey literally tore up the competition, winning each and every race he competed in that season.  Although we was terrific in the 120 high hurdles, it was 180 low hurdles where he became a legendary.  The 180 lows (which is no longer run in favor of the 300 intermediate), was a tricky event.  It was long for a hurdle race, a 180 yard straightaway all-out sprint that took both speed and endurance.    You would see runners just crumble halfway through the race and barely have enough energy to finish.  Randall was the exception in that he would get stronger during the later stages of the race.  He had it all.  He was great out of the blocks and had perfect form.  But it was his speed between hurdles that set him apart.  More often than not when the race was finished, he was five or more yards ahead of the second place finisher.  He ran and won with a flair, often raising his arms in triumph or sometimes much to coach Jackson’s chagrin, would turn and point at those trailing him before crossing the finish line.  This was the track equivalent to trash talking.

After L.A. shocked Fremont to win the league title, Jeffrey, Mosby, Pryor, Lewis and others competed in the state meet.  Jeffrey finished third in the 120 highs and then won the 180 lows in a time of 18.7, the best in the nation that year.  With his victory along with Mosby’s 5th place finish in the 180 lows, the Romans finished 3rd place in state, L.A.s second-highest placement ever.  Jeffrey’s victory was the first individual state championship for a Roman since the great Cornelius Johnson in 1932. 

The euphoria of the great showing at the state meet was tempered somewhat a few days later when it was disclosed by the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that Jeffrey, an 11th grader, was already 18 years old.  This was not a problem, but it did mean that he would not be able to defend his title as a senior because he would then be 19, exceeding the age limit.  Age is no longer an issue in high school sports these days as there are parents that purposely hold kids back a year (a practice which I am totally against), but back then it was strictly enforced.  When the 1973-74 school year began, Randall Jeffrey was not there.  No one seemed to know where he went. With the assistance of my Blue & White advisor Mr. Strumpf, we put out feelers to some of the sports agencies at the time and got word that he was running track at Delta Junior College in Northern California.  Randall Jeffrey is one of those intriguing mysteries; a talented athlete whose star shone brightly over the Roman horizon for a brief time and then, just like that, he disappeared.  But for those of us lucky to have seen him perform, we were part of a privileged minority.  He was spectacular.

With Jeffrey gone along with the graduation of Clement, Mosby, Pryor, Lawrence Washington among others, 1974 shaped up to be a rebuilding year for the Roman track team.  Coach Charles Jackson, whose favorite line was “Don’t go sellin’ wolf tickets,” had a lot of work to do.  Surely this would not be the year of the Romans.

Somebody forgot to tell that to the team itself.

Despite the personnel losses, a mixture of experienced seniors and talented underclassmen were ready to take L.A.s track & field baton and run with it.  Fleet-footed junior Tony Brown stepped into the void left by Charles Clement and became L.A.s lead sprinter.  Seniors Darryl Moss, Wyatt Smith were also outstanding runners who added depth.  In addition, the team sported quarter-milers Glenn Davis, Rene Sims and Derrick Cox, middle distance runner Larry Ford, miler Bernard Brown; two-miler Tim French; high jumper Thomas Webb, shot-put specialist Ed Lewis, and pole vaulter Kelvin Black.  Then the Romans received an unexpected gift with the addition of Fremont transfer James Perry.  James was a brilliant all-around sprinter and hurdler.  Not only was he fast, but he was also a quality long jumper.  He would take the place of Jeffrey in the 180 lows.  Tony Brown that got most of the publicity that season, and it was well deserved.  Tony could flat-out fly, and with that silky-smooth running style of his, he never looked like he was moving fast.  That is until he blew by you.  Although Brown got the lion’s share of the press, this was not like ’73 when the team relied on a handful of stars.  This team had multiple leaders and you never knew from week to week who would step up. But someone always did.

Tony Brown (left) and Darryl Moss finish 1-2 during a 1974 meet at Housh Field
The season got off to an uneven start, with L.A. losing two league meets – one to rival Fremont and the other to Washington.  We barely beat an inferior Manual Arts team (and their strange rectangular running track).  But the dual meets are nothing more than a prelude to the league finals.  It was there in the finals that you made your mark.  In 1973 for instance, Fremont ran roughshod over everyone (including us) during the regular season.  But in the league finals, the Romans beat the Pathfinders 64-56 for the championship.  Fremont of course thought it was a fluke and there was no way that L.A. would beat them again especially with all or the personnel changes.  But as the season progressed, the Roman track team slowly but surely gained steam.  Perry, Brown and the sprint team were clicking.  The distance runners were improving with each meet.  Lewis, Black and Perry led the field events.  Even a little known mediocre senior pole vaulter who kept bouncing between varsity and the Bee team was having a decent year.  That mediocre senior pole vaulter was me. 

And under the radar, there was one member of the Roman track team that that came out of nowhere and gave L.A. an unexpected boost while epitomizing the never-say-die Roman spirit.  His name was Homer Butler.

Homer was already a well-established star athlete at L.A.  He was an all-city football player and all-league in baseball.  With the departure of Randall Jeffrey and Jack Mosby, we were short on hurdlers.  The coaches were so desperate that they even tried using that mediocre pole vaulter in a few races.  The results weren’t good, so Coach Jackson enlisted Butler to come try out.  The first day of practice, Homer hit every single hurdle.  I mean he hit them hard.  And his form was bad.  But he never got discouraged and kept working.  I had never before or since seen this type of determination.  Homer was the first one on the track each day and was the last to leave.  His hard work paid off.  By the end of the regular season, he was one of the league’s top hurdlers in the 120 highs, running times comparable to that of Jeffrey and Mosby from the previous year.  As the Southern League Finals approached, the Romans were firing on all cylinders.  

It was showtime, and L.A. High was ready for its close-up.

The Southern League was a rugged and sometimes brutal six-team division featuring L.A., Fremont, Manual Arts, Jefferson, Washington and our geographic rival Dorsey, although for some reason Dorsey was never much for a threat to us in track.  Our track rival was Fremont.  They were big, strong and like L.A. had a great history.  The fierce league competition helped us and by the time of the league finals, we were ready physically and psychologically.

The league finals as always, were held at East L.A College.  Fremont was still under the impression that our victory over them the previous year was a fluke and based on the fact that they beat us in our dual meet, they came into the finals pretty confident.  They definitely had a swagger to them.  I remember jogging around the infield and they would pass you and give you a look, trying to intimidate you.  I didn’t work with me or my teammates.  We had a relatively quiet team.  But we were confident in our abilities.  We didn’t believe in talking.  No selling wolf tickets.  We were all about getting it done on the track.  And we knew that like ’73, Fremont underestimated us.  They overlooked our hearts and the overlooked our will.

Coach Jackson told us that if we could score between 66 and 70 points, we would win.  No easy task.  Even though Fremont was who we were focused on, you had to be careful because someone like Jefferson or Washington could sneak up on you.  One bad day by you and a good day by them would tilt the meet in their favor.  But we were definitely up to the challenge. 

The first race was the 440 relay.  Tony Brown had been a little banged up during football season and was having a little trouble finishing with his usual explosion.  Coach Jackson and sprinters Coach Ronnie Welch (an L.A. High grad) made a strategic decision to move Tony from the anchor leg to third and had James Perry run anchor.  It worked as L.A. breezed to victory in a season best time of 42.6.  That race set the tone.  The rest of the day was surreal.  Everyone was putting up PRs (personal records), and we seemed to be winning event after event.  Perry and Brown went 1-2 in the 220; Derrick Cox defeated James Lofton in the 440 – yes that James Lofton who went on to a Hall of Fame NFL career with the Packers, Raiders and Bills.  Derrick Cox and Larry Ford placed in the 880; Bernard Brown won the mile with Tim French finishing fourth; my buddy and mentor Kelvin Black finished second in the pole vault, Homer Butler placed second (by just inches) in the 120 highs: James Perry won the 180 lows with Butler finishing third; Big Tom Webb finished second in the high jump; Perry finished third in the long jump and Ed Lewis continued his competitive dual with Fremont’s Curtis Yarborough, finishing second in the shot put.  After our mile relay finished second in the final event, we had to wait or the official scoring.  It seemed like an eternity.  Personally, I felt we won, but there was no way of knowing.  Did we score between 66 and 70 points like coach wanted?  Had another school sneaked up on us?

Then, I got the word.  Distance Coach Jim Panger called me over.  Pager had been my 10th grade English teacher and we had a great relationship; he was one of those teachers you just really like.  He also knew that I was the sports editor for the Blue & White and would want to know the final tally.  Panger was a very soft spoken guy, in fact, he almost spoke in monotone.  He then told me in his typical very soft spoken manner,

“Glenn, we scored eighty-three points.”

I must have looked at him like he had two heads.  “Eighty-three points?  Are you serious?”  I asked.  “What did Fremont finish with?”  His reply was “forty-eight.  Go spread the word.”

That’s all he had to say.  I yelled to anyone and everyone:  “WE SCORED EIGHTY-THREE POINTS GUYS.  EIGHTY-THREE POINTS!”  Kelvin Black grabbed me by the shoulder and asked, “What did you say?” To which I replied, “Eighty-three points, man.  We kicked their ass!”  And suddenly, the stands were a smiles, whoops and hollers.  Everyone was slapping fives (no high fives in those days).  Eighty-three points were a new Southern League finals record.  Jerry Wiener, who covered prep sports for the Herald-Examiner (and he was a former journalism teacher at Rome) called it “One of the most dominating performances in city history.  With a little good fortune, this could well go down as one of the best track & field teams ever.”

The bus ride home was wild and crazy.  Usually when the bus got too noisy, a coach would tell us to quiet down.  Not on this day. They let us be as loud and we wanted and we let our emotions flow.  Someone, I don’t remember who, shouted:

We came, we conquered and we swooped!!

And then someone started the Hey L.A. chant.
Well I had a little rooster….
I put that rooster in a boat
I heard him talk about the Romans
And I cut that rooster’s throat…

Oh man, it was so much fun.  We were at the top of our game and things could only get better.  That Monday when I got back to school, I was trying to figure out what my headline for the Blue & White would be Romans crush Pathfinders or L.A. Wins in a Runaway or Southern League Champs….Again!

And then I asked myself, what would say more about this track meet than the score?  What would demonstrate our dominance that day more than a simple and clear headline?   Here is what I came up with.  Thank you to Edwin Lewis for saving this forty year-old Blue & White clipping:

As great as our performance was at the league finals, we still had work to do.  Now we took dead aim at the city championship.  The city competition was divided into three sections; the quarterfinals, the semi-finals or “Prelims” and the finals.  You had to qualify in one section to move onto the next.  For instance if you qualified in the quarterfinals, you moved onto the prelims.  The defending city champs was Gardena most of the so-called experts were picking them to win again.  But with the way we were performing, we knew could beat them.  There was no doubt in my mind or my teammate’s minds.  And I got a nice little surprise from Coach Jackson.  Coaches in those days were allowed to take one or two extra people to the quarterfinals.  It was mostly so the events could be filled out.  Although I had not qualified by finishing in sixth place, I did PR and coach rewarded that by taking me to the quarterfinals.  I was honored that he did that for me.  

The quarterfinals I think were held at Chatsworth High (although I could be mistaken) and L.A. picked up where they left off in the league finals.  Tony Brown, Daryl Moss and James Perry qualified in both the 100 and 220 yard runs, Derrick Cox and Rene Sims and did the same in the 440, Cox and Larry Ford moved on in the 880 and Bernard Brown advanced in the mile.  James Perry qualified in the 180 low hurdles and Homer Butler did the same in the 120 highs.  Kelvin Black qualified in the pole vault and Ed Lewis moved ahead in the shot put.  And the icing on the cake was the 440-relay team which ran an amazing 42.0, just a couple ticks off of L.A. High’s school and city record of 41.8.  The stage was set for the prelims.  Gardena was in our sights.  And then, fate intervened. 

We had all heard about an all-comers track & field meet being held at Cal State L.A.  Many of the area’s top athletes from high schools and colleges would be there.  It was great because you could compete against some of the best and stay sharp leading up to the prelims.  My high school career had come to an end at the quarterfinals when I finished eighth in the pole vault, so this was an opportunity for me to compete one more time.  I really wanted to go but I had to work that day (at Pup N Taco, my first job).  I don’t remember if it was Monday or Tuesday of the following week, but rumors began circulating around campus about the track team.  No one was talking, but something had happened.  I ran into Kelvin Black and I asked him what was going on.  He just shook his head and kept walking.  What the hell was happening?  I was about to find out. 

I was summoned from my first period class to Mr. Roulette’s office.  Going to Mr. Roulette’s office usually meant you were in some sort of trouble, so I had no idea what this was about.  Mr. Roulette, Coach Jackson and Mr. Strumpf were there and asked me if I had competed in the all-comers meet.  I told them no.  I wanted to, but I had to work.  Mr. Roulette then informed me that the all-comers meet had not been sanctioned by the city, therefore making it an illegal event for high school athletes.  Because of this, anyone who competed in that meet is ineligible for any further meets this year, including the upcoming city prelims.  My first response was well, I didn’t qualify for the prelims anyway so this doesn’t even affect me. 

And then it hit me.  I asked Coach Jackson, “Wait a minute.  Who was there?”  He looked at me and said on word that I will never forget.


“So, we won’t have anyone going to the prelims?” I asked.  Mr. Roulette replied “It looks that way.  We haven’t talked to everyone yet, but from what we have heard, most of the team was there.”

My heart sank.  I felt as if there had been a death in the family.  Then Mr. Strumpf, my journalism teacher and Blue & White advisor spoke up.  “Mr. Roulette and Mr. Jackson have asked us not to publicize this in the Blue & White and I agree with them.  There is nothing to gain by doing this.” 
Mr. Strumpf was big on reporting and writing the truth.  He encouraged us to be honest, even if it meant hurting some feelings.  But here, was telling me not to even go there.

And I agreed with him.  After all, these weren’t only my teammates, they were my friends.  Even more devastating was that fact that we a shot – a real shot - at a city championship.  And just like that, it was gone.  Up in smoke like a David Copperfield illusion.

Then the questions started to be asked.  How did this happen?  Why didn’t our coaches warn us about it being a non-sanctioned meet?  Who snitched?  When something like this happens, someone has to be held responsible.  There has to be a villain.  Everyone seemed to point their fingers at Roulette.  It was he who called the City Athletic Commission (forerunner to the CIF City Section) and blew the whistle on us.  But in reality, and hindsight being 20-20, he was just doing his job.  If he had this information and did not disclose it, it could have meant sanctions against the entire track team for the following year.  It would have come out at some point.  What if we had won city and then been stripped of the title?  That probably would have been worse.  But either way, it was disastrous.  The one piece of positive news was that shot put specialist Ed Lewis did not go to the all-comers meet. 

Ed would go to the prelims and finals as the lone representative from L.A. High. 

We had a good team. We had a shot at City that year, says Ed Lewis.  “But a bunch of guys went to a non sanctioned meet at Cal State LA and were deemed intelligible. I stayed home and was the only member of that team that went on to the City prelims and finals. Barring that event, we had a good shot at Gardena and the City title.”

Larry Ford agrees.  “Definitely could have competed for the city title that year.  It was a great team.”

Forty years have passed since that magical spring of 1974.  For the seniors like myself, we went onto college or began working or both.  For the underclassmen, they would continue the Roman track & field tradition with fine teams the next few years.  But never again would the Romans come as close to a city championship as they did in 1974.  So what was it about that team?  What made it so special?

First, there was the legacy.  It was around us every day at L.A.  We knew that we were following in the footsteps of great Romans of the past and we had a responsibility to uphold that tradition, like the 1969 state champions and the 1973 team that finished third in state.  We wanted to equal and surpass what they had accomplished.

Second, we had very good coaches.  Charles Jackson was a guy that I appreciated more after I graduated.  He was sharp, highly organized and funny.  But he was about discipline which I related to.  Terrell Ray, Ronnie Welch, Fred Ealey, Jim Panger and although he wasn’t there in ’74, I would be remiss if I did not include the late great Ollie Matson who I had the privilege of working with my first two years.  He had a tremendous influence on me.  How many people can say that they were coached by a pro football Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist?

Last but certainly not least were the athletes.  The 1974 Romans.  We had some fabulous athletes on that team.  If I close my eyes I can see Tony Brown and Daryl Moss – afros flying in the breeze – going 1-2 in the hundred yard dash.  I can see James Perry and that great acceleration motoring through the 180 lows.  I can see Ed Lewis pushing that shot put with all his might.  I can see my friend Kelvin Black clearing the height with ease in the pole vault.  And there were so many others.  As good as they were as athletes, they were even better as young men.  It really was a great group of guys.  I don’t remember there being any issues or infighting.  Everyone pulled for each other and we really were a team.  And it did not matter if you were varsity, bee or cee, you were part of the team.  

One school, one team.

No one will ever know what this team could have achieved.  A city championship?  Certainly a possibility.  A state championship?  Perhaps.  But one thing is certain.  This was indeed a special group.  Maybe the best in L.A. High’s storied history.  My guess is that current L.A. students and coaches know nothing about 1974 Roman track team.  And that’s a shame.  They should.   For this was a truly great team of talent and integrity.

We came, we conquered and we swooped.

And, we didn’t sell no wolf tickets….


James Adams, Derrick Allen, Michael Anderson, Mark Andrews, Kelvin Black, Chris Brake, Bernard Brown, Mark Brown, Tony Brown, Wayne Brown, Kim Burton, Tony Butcher, Dwayne Cannon, Lloyd Carter, Marty Coleman, Harvey Conley, Curtis Conner, Derrick Cox, Glenn Davis, Larry Ford, Timothy French, Eddie Glenn, Willie Griffin, Paul Hiramoto, Hanlon Holmes, Gregory Jacobs, Gregory James, Jerry Jefferson, Kevin Johnson, Sterling Johnson, Carl Jones, Causey Kascadre, Robert Lacefield, Eddie Langford, Peter Lee, Anthony Leslie, Edwin Lewis, Raoul Loring, Mark Lott, Kevin Manor, Anthony McClain, Darryl Moss, Lyle Nixon, Graylin Patin, James Perry, Dearryl Rabb, Walter Ricardo, Allen Robertson, Gregory Robinson, William Shields, Shinji Shinfuku, Eugene Sims, Rene Sims, Roger Smith, Wyatt Smith, George Spell, Robert Taylor, Frank Warren, Quinten Washington, Thomas Webb, Anthony West, Glenn Wilson, Toran Wright

Dedicated to Lloyd Carter, Kevin Manor, Tony Brown, Kelvin Black, Coach Ollie Matson and Coach Charles Jackson. Rest in peace.  Romans Forever!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Top Notch Performances Mark 30th Annual Harmony Sweepstakes

The fact that the Harmony Sweepstakes was celebrating its 30th anniversary, you knew that the evening would be special.  What few knew is that this year’s competition would not only be special, but it would be a scintillating show that would bring the crowd to its feet on more than one occasion.  On the way out of the auditorium, I heard one veteran Sweeps watcher state, “That is the best nationals in quite some time.”

On a typically brisk San Rafael evening, a sold out crowd of nearly 2,000 a cappella enthusiasts packed the Marin Veterans Auditorium to witness the national finals of the influential singing contest that has been the launching pad for such groups as M-Pact, Groove for Thought and Sing-Off kings Home Free.  At 8:00pm sharp, the lights dimmed and the stage spotlight focused directly on center stage where three microphones stood.  Then the public address announcer stated:

“Please welcome the 2013 Harmony Sweepstakes national Champions.  The Honey Whiskey Trio.”

The Los Angeles-based group consisting of Courtney Gasque, Ann Louise Thaiss and Christina Wilson who would serve as hosts this evening walked onto stage wearing comfortable looking yet fashionable dresses and their now trademark boots.  Appropriately, they opened the show with These Boots are Made for Walking in their unique foot-stomping style.

Tonight’s Mistress of Ceremonies is veteran singer Angie Doctor.  She was stunning in her blue full-length sparkly gown (I am sure there is a technical term, but we will go with “sparkly” for the purposes of this review).  She took care of the welcomes, explanation of the rules and introduced the five individuals who had the difficult task of judging this competition.  The judges were Bill Hare, Raz Kennedy, Craig Knudsen, Stephanie Lawson and Annie Stocking.  She also took a moment to mention the passing of long-time Sweeps photographer and friend Chris Cochems.  After the brief tribute and warm applause, Angie turned to his widow Helen who was on hand and said, “I know he could hear that.”

Catatonic began the competition - Photo by AcaFanBase
Now, it was onto the competition.  Christina Wilson announced the first group, Mid-Atlantic champs Catatonic.  The Atlanta-bred sextet opened with the swinging Love Gun with the soulful Tye Tavaras singing the lead.  The set continued with Tammy Parkinson and John Robinson’s arrangement of Never Close Our Eyes.  They then transitioned into the lovely ballad Pretty Hurts with alternating lead vocals between Parkinson, Tavares and Carrie Leonard.  They closed with a rocking and rollicking rendition of Lucky Strike.  Although the ladies were front and center, the guys – John Robinson, Steve Ryan and Andrew Leonard provided great backing vocals.  A darn good opening act by Catatonic that was well received by the audience.

PNW Champs SeaNote - Photo by AcaFanBase
Next to perform was SeaNote, winners of the Pacific Northwest Region.  This group made up of friends from the University of Washington who happen to be all basses and second altos.  An odd combination but it works.  They came out with member Shaheer Aftab mimicking the sounds of radio static in search of a station, briefly stopping on the overly-covered Royals before settling on a fine arrangement of I Knew You Were Trouble.  They continued with a beautifully executed All of Me, complete with fine leads and lush harmonies.  SeaNote finished their set with Dark Horse, arranged by bassist Michael Kibbe.  The group’s vocals combined with their sunny personalities wowed the crowd.

3AM performs Thank You - Photo by AcaFanBase
The third act was – ironically - called 3AM, a gospel/R&B group out of Florida that took the Chicago regionals.  These dapper gentlemen in matching blazers introduced themselves with their original We are 3AM.  Next was a strong, rich treatment of R&B hit Thank You that had the audience tapping their toes.  3AM then took the audience to church with the gospel Have a Talk.  You could hear the distinct influence of groups like Take 6 and Naturally 7 in their sound and style.  The beautiful Bless This House was next, showcasing the group’s harmonic ability.  They closed with Pharrell Williams mega-hit Happy that got the audience to clap along.  All-in-all, a solid performance by 3AM.

Women of the World close out first half - Photo by AcaFanBase
Now taking the stage was Boston champion Women of the World.  The quartet who met at the Berklee College of Music represent four countries - Italy, Japan, India and Haiti and combine world, folk, classical and jazz.   They wore colorful, ethnic gowns that looked gorgeous under the house lights.  The group began with the jazzy and playful Walkin’ Down The Street, complete with simultaneous scat solos.  Their performance continued to elevate with their renditions of Iyo Siwelele, Kafal Sviri and the original Samba in G.  Their final songs were the beautiful Sakura Sakura, and Rhy-dhun which began slowly and then built to a marvelous vocal explosion.  When they sang their final note, the audience poured out its emotion, giving the quartet a well-deserved standing ovation.  The singers looked a bit stunned by the response as they walked off the stage, waving to the crowd.


And not a minute too soon, as an exhausted audience had to gather itself after a breathtaking first half.  As I made my way around the lobby eavesdropping as always, everyone was talking about the stunning performance by Women of the World.  “Wow,” was the most used adjective, and that is interesting as “Wow” is what the group uses as part of its twitter handle.  But all the groups got kudos and I overheard one woman say, “Whomever performs after intermission has their work cut out for them.  All the groups have been amazing.”  I bumped into SeaNote at the Honey Whiskey Trio table in the lobby and they were on top of the world, saying that this has been an incredible experience and they were having the time of their lives.

Bay Area Champs Prime Time - Photo by AcaFanBase
With intermission over, Ann Louise Thaiss of The Honey Whiskey Trio introduced the home-town favorite – Prime Time, winners of the Bay Area Regional.  If there was one thing that Prime Time seemed to be intent on accomplishing was to let everyone know that they are versatile.  The veteran group immediately brought energy to the stage as they sang the Hall & Oats classic You Make My Dreams Come True that was a whole lot of fun.  They moved onto a lovely arrangement of Mia Makaroff’s Butterfly, showcasing their musicianship.  Very innovative vocal technique was evident in their performance of Katy Perry’s Wide Awake.  As bassist John Rae-Grant explained that the group had to figure out how to sing a song and not to go over the Sweeps time limit (while he was explaining, the bamboo pole appeared signifying the one minute warning).  They concluded with a brief and comical take on Everything is Awesome from the Lego Movie. Nicely done, Prime Time.  You did the Bay Area proud.

L.A.s #FOURTYFOURB - Photo by AcaFanBase
Courtney Gasque introduced Los Angeles Champions and HWT protégés #FourtyFourB.  The seven-member group who has its origins at the University of California Irvine was playful with the audience, even teaching us a UCI cheer (ZOT....ZOT....ZOT!)  They opened with a superb delivery of Adele's Rumor Has It, striking just the right balance between vocals and vocal percussion.  Next was a Stevie Wonder mashup of Isn’t She Lovely sprinkled with My Cheri Amour.  This was a nice bridge between the first and third songs and appealed to the older members of the audience.  They finished with a smooth as silk rendering of John Legend’s Heaven that had heads bobbing throughout the audience.  Besides their obvious talent, #FourtyFourB has an easygoing confidence about them that made them very relatable. 

Pride of the Republic of Georgia Quintessential Five
The last performers of the evening were Quintessential Five.  They were perhaps the most intriguing act in the competition.  The New York Regional Champions are from The Republic of Georgia and they are young.  And when I say young, I mean really young, falling between the ages of 13 and 17.  But on the stage, there is nothing childlike about them.  They opened with a beautiful and highly complex Georgian folk song Krimanchuli.  The group flawlessly executed its rapid-fire lyrics and the audience was immediately blown away.  The amazement continued with the jazz standard Senor Blues.  I had never heard this song vocalized before, and these kids knocked it out of the park.  And just when you thought it could not get any better, they performed an original song called Tales of War, and dedicated it to the victims in Ukraine, the home country Georgia and to the lives lost on 9/11.  The song is indescribable.  The performance was remarkable.  And the audience rose to its feet in appreciation. 

2013 Champs Honey Whiskey Trio 
The competition was compete.  Now the judges had to deliberate and the audience would get its turn to vote for its favorite.  After a brief 15 minute break for the voting, everyone settled back into their seats and The Honey Whiskey Trio took the stage for the final time as national champions.  They performed songs from their just release LP Honey Whiskey Trio: Stories of Love, Death and Spirits, including My Love, Courtney’s gorgeous arrangement of the Everly Brothers All I have to do is Dream (which earned them their first standing ovation and the crowd’s ultimate tribute of thunderous stomping), and It’s a Sin To Tell A Lie, featuring a vocal trumpet solo by Ann Louise.  HWT did a little tribute to last year’s hosts and 2012 national champs Six Appeal by performing 500 Miles.  But Christina warned everyone, “We are out of shape, so there will be no running or jumping….”  Instead, the Honeys sang a gorgeous, almost unrecognizable version of the song that earned them their second standing O.  They closed their performance with the upbeat Wine Blues.  A third standing ovation and more stomping ensued.  The Honeys had been charming hosts.  What an incredible Harmony Sweepstakes swan song for the Honey Whiskey Trio!

Angie Doctor returned to the stage and it was time to announce the results.

Audience Favorite……WOMEN OF THE WORLD!

Huge applause as the ladies from Boston come out for the encore.  I am sorry that I don’t know the song they sang, but it was beautiful as their entire performance had been.

Angie now brought out all of the performers in show order.  Catatonic, SeaNote, 3AM, Women of the World, Prime Time, #FourtyFourB, and Quintessential Five.  They formed a semi-circle upstage and waited for Angie to announce the winners.  All of the work, audition tapes, winning of the regionals.  And it all came down to this.

Here we go……

This is what I was hoping for and the judges in my opinion made the right choice.  Perfectly arranged for the group’s voices

No question about this. A stunningly beautiful song that although in a different language, you really got the gist of what the song was saying.

And now, the placements:

Third place goes to…………SEANOTE!
I was actually a little surprised by this selection, but pleasantly so.  They had performed beautifully and were very deserving of the placement. 

Second place goes to……………….QUINTESSENTIAL FIVE!
On one hand, I was so happy for these kids because their performance was near perfect and in this environment in front of this audience, it was an incredible feat.  On the other hand, they finished second.  Nothing to be ashamed of.  But I am sure they wanted to win.  Who doesn’t?

First place, and the 2014 Harmony Sweepstakes National Champions……..WOMEN OF THE WORLD!

The four women walked to center stage with their arms around each other and took in the applause, and the standing ovation.  They were beaming, with that feeling that only a national champion can feel.  Once the applause died down, it was time for the traditional group singing of the doo-wop classic Goodnight Sweetheart.  One thing that is very unique about the Sweeps is that many in the audience are singers.  And when the crowd joins in for this song, it sounds pretty good.  People are even harmonizing!

Goodnight Sweetheart - Photo by AcaFanBase
With that, the 30th Annual Harmony Sweepstakes is a wrap.  It was a wonderful and diverse competition, with many style and genres represented.  Oddly, for one of the few times in Sweeps history, barbershop was not represented.  But consider the night consisted of indie, pop, gospel, R&B, world music, classical, jazz and folk.  Amazing.  Congratulations to all of the participating groups for putting on a wonderful show.  A special tip of the hat to Women of the World.  For the second year in a row, an all-female group (and rather non-traditional ones at that) has taken top prize.  Enjoy the ride, Women of the World.  Well done……

And to my friend and fellow writer Stacy who could not make it this year, thanks for allowing me to fill in for you.  Until we meet again next year, I am signing off.

Glenn Wilson

Corona, CA