Video from May 12, 2011 performance
in Nashville, Tennessee
The SUNTONES began singing in 1957 with Gene Cokeroft on tenor, Clark Bell singing lead, Bill Wyatt on baritone and Danny Whipple on bass. Wyatt wrote wild and crazy arrangements of songs like That Old Black Magic. In addition to singing barbershop, the quartet enjoyed singing "Hi-Lo's" songs and was known for their ability to tune chords.
Families and draft boards took their toll on original
members and forced some personnel changes. In November of 1958 the SUNTONES
were looking for a new bass, when into a chapter meeting wandered Bill Cain. He
sang a song with Gene, Bill and Bob Franklin. The sound was so impressive they
rehearsed nine nights in a row and entered the district contest. They were the
surprise of the weekend, coming in second. The very next year, the quartet won
the first district quartet championship of the newly formed Sunshine District.
It was that weekend they met baritone Harlan Wilson. Their first exposure to
the International Convention audience was in 1959 in
In the spring of 1960, Bill Wyatt had to withdraw from
the quartet. They called Harlan in
At the Barbershop Quartet's Society's International
As with all International Champion Quartets, they were crowned, celebrated, cheered, and treated like celebrities and sent home. Here is where many gold medalist quartets begin to slowly but surely disappear.
For the SUNTONES, it was only the beginning. After the championship year, the SUNTONES decided they might as well do this thing right. They began to set new standards and became innovators. The quartet decided to produce recordings as often as possible and sought professional bookings outside of barbershop circles. Their heavy schedule forced them to improve and perfect their presentation. It was hard work that paid off.
Soon the SUNTONES could be found singing at
In addition to performing well, the SUNTONES set themselves apart by introducing new songs into their performances and by creating a library of recordings not yet matched in size by any other barbershop quartet.
Individually, each member of the SUNTONES grew in
experience and talent as the quartet traveled the country. After the departure
of Bob Franklin in 1979, the quartet continued to perform with Drayton Justus
on lead, until their swan song in January of 1985 in
The current configuration of the
SUNTONES has Bob Franklin back in the lead spot for the first time in over 25
years. Sadly, Bill Cain lost his battle with cancer in 2004. The Suntones’
final public appearance with Bill was at the 50th Anniversary of the Fairfax
Chapter on October 18, 2003 though his health did not permit him to sing.
The SUNTONES were ahead of their time, innovators in almost every field of quartetting. They were known for their Broadway show music, their sound system, (they carried their own and performed with individual hand held microphones), proactive management and an extensive library of recordings. With the release of their "Complete Works" five-CD, double album set, and the 2003 release of a new a new “Suntones LIVE” CD recorded in 1972, a new generation was able to re-discovere one of the all-time great quartets of the 20th Century. In 2005, the SUNTONES joined the Buffalo Bills as one of only two quartets to be inducted into the Barbershop Harmony Society’s “Hall of Fame.”
Written by Grady Kerr ,
Barbershop Harmony Society historian