Usually, when one thinks of barbershop singing, one pictures men in old-fashioned shirts and striped vests, ties and “garters” on their shirt sleeves, their hair parted in the center and even sporting long, luxurious handlebar mustaches.
The award-winning “Sweet Adelines,” a group of harmonizing ladies, has provided quite a different picture.
Jean Freeman of Vandalia is a member of this group and part of the performance that recently won the award for the best small chorus in the world, the Harmony Achievement Award.
And Jean has received an award recognizing her “for 55 years of dedicated service and continuous membership of Sweet Adelines International.”
She recently returned from Honolulu, Hawaii, where the Sweet Adelines competed with choruses from all over the world and took the top prize in the Sweet Adelines International 62nd Annual Convention and Competition.
“The Sweet Adelines sing four-part harmony acappella – there is no accompanist,” Jean said.
“The parts are: tenor, above the lead; baritone, below the lead; and bass, which is what I sing. It’s just like the barbershoppers, and we sing the same type of arrangements.
One of her daughters, Jody, is a 35-year member of the chorus. “I trained her right,” Jean said, laughingly.
Jean travels once a week to St. Louis to practice. “We have more than 80 in the chorus, but there were only 69 on the stage.”
Jean told of how her love for music began when she was very young.
“When I was a little girl, my mother played the piano, and I’ve been singing as far back as I can remember.
“Shirley Temple and I were born the same year and after she became a star, I guess I wanted to become a star too,” she said.
With her mother at the the piano, Jean sang solos and with the choir in church when she was young. A graduate of the Urbana High School, she was a member of the chorus, in smaller groups and in contests.
She has been singing all her life, in various groups in various cities. She doesn’t play the piano, but she knows the keyboard enough to help her learn her music. .
Introduction to the Sweet Adelines
It was after she was married and had two little girls that she was introduced to the music of the Sweet Adelines.
“I had an aunt who lived in the same city, and she said there was a group of singers she thought I would be interested in. She was a member and I went with her, and I was hooked the first night I went. I love harmony and I just love singing, period,” she said.
Not only did she pass the audition, but she was singing in a quartet when she had just been there a couple of weeks, with no problem.
“I love to sing, so I wasn’t nervous. I could never speak in front of people, but if somebody blows a pitch pipe, I become someone else and I can sing,” she said.
“We have been all over the United States, to Hawaii and Canada twice, but I’ve never been to California. We have different regions, and there are members from all over the United States. I have so mane Adeline friends,” she said. “Actually, they are my closest friends, because I’m with them so much.”
…And Family Harmony
Jean and her husband, Dale, have two daughters, Jody, who lives in Granite City, and Debbie, of Vandalia. Their family includes four grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They attend First United Methodist Church in Vandalia.
“My family has always been so supportive of me in the Adelines,” Jean said. “My husband used to be a ‘barbershopper,’ and he sings in the church choir.”
”When I go to my meeting on Tuesday night, I go to my Jody’s in Granite City, and we travel on to the meeting together,” Jean said.
“Debbie also sings, but she has been so busy with her three children and work that she has never had time to travel,” she said
“I plan on staying with Sweet Adelines as long as I can,” Jean said. “I do have macular degeneration, so eventually, I may not be able to see. But Dale says he will take me to the meetings, and he will. He has been with me all my life. We were married when I was 19, so I can hardly remember not having him with me.”
Jean will have been singing with the Sweet Adelines for 56 years in March. Next Tuesday is her birthday, and also the date of the Adelines’ Christmas Concert.
A joyous time as Jean shares the song born in her heart with others.