Songs, Sass, and Sequins
"I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…" Whether that little excerpt makes you want to sing, bring peace to the world, or drink a coke, those words came to mind the night at the recent 4-States Fusion Chorus friends and family night. 4-States Fusion is Texarkana's all-female, barbershop style, a cappella, song and performance group. The choral ensemble consists of twenty women of all ages from Texarkana and its surrounding areas. To say that this group is talented is, perhaps, the biggest understatement of all time. It is not by accident that these musical friends join together to combine such extraordinary talents. Their blending of sounds into those perfect harmonies and their seemingly natural inclination for performing is truly something to behold.
At the end of the second world war, barbershop quartet-style music was all the rage. Several famous all-male groups in the United States had made a name for themselves with this particular style of music that had no musical instruments. Only a pitch pipe gave the singers one note that would set the key for the song they were about to sing. From there, the barbershop quartet would sing a song using only their musical ear to blend harmonies, resulting in a piece that was sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Maybe this style of music came on the heels of war, but its happy, often upbeat, dripping with honey songs brought particular joy to people who had shared and survived tough times.
In 1945, Edna Mae Anderson of Tulsa, Oklahoma, decided to try her hand at barbershop quartet-style music. Women's barbershop quartets and choral groups were hard to find until then. Edna Mae figured that women liked to sing too, and by the year's end, 85 women were singing in the group she founded. Over the years, several names and chapters developed from Edna Mae Anderson's original women's chorus, but in 1991, the name officially changed to Sweet Adelines International. Since its founding in 1945, Sweet Adelines claims almost 21,000 singers worldwide in their group. Of those 21,000, 500 choruses and 1,000 quartets, each with different chapter names, keep the barbershop style alive and well.
Texarkana's first chapter of Sweet Adelines began in 1983 with a few women who had moved here from Oklahoma. Of course, the names of the chapter and members have changed over the years, but in 2014, the current Texarkana chapter of the Sweet Adelines became officially known as the 4-States Fusion Chorus. Nine members have been with the chapter for twenty-five years, and three others are about to celebrate their twentieth anniversary with the group. The leadership and dedication of the ladies are evident in their love and respect for not only the music but all the ladies they sing with, too.
As the 4-States Fusion stands in front of their audience, the director blows one note on the pitch pipe, and the sweetest sounds you can imagine fill the room. The voices of the twenty women blend so flawlessly that it's easy to see why no instruments are necessary. All the ladies agree that singing a capella is more challenging because they rely solely on each other and their God-given musical ears. They add dynamics to the songs, a true work of art. These gals sing everything from a barbershop-style version of Journey's Don't Stop Believing to the Southern gospel anthem of I'll Fly Away. 4-States Fusion is quite diverse in its song choices and appeals to all music lovers. Their ability to harmonize sounds on almost any song is music to the ears.
Locally, the Fusion members sing at both community and private events. The ladies were honored to sing The Star Spangled Banner at Texarkana's Tough Cookie Race last fall. On Veteran's Day, the group meets at assisted living facilities and nursing homes to sing for residents, many of whom are veterans. At Christmas, the group showed their talent at The Mistletoe Market, Christmas on Main, and the Old Washington Courthouse. The 4-States Fusion songbirds also hold membership drives and fundraisers throughout the year to help fund their expenses. Do you need impressive entertainment for an upcoming event? These eighteen ladies fit the bill and have a great time performing!
On March 18, the group will travel to Richardson, Texas, for the Sweet Adeline's regional competition. The winner will advance to the international competition, which will be held later this year in Louisville, Kentucky. The ladies of 4-States Fusion have been practicing their songs, At Last and Never Say Never Again, which they will sing before a panel of judges. The judges will grade them on sound, performance, and costumes. The members say that one of the hardest parts of learning their songs is taking to Northeast Texas/ Southwest Arkansas "twang" from the words they sing. "A group from Sweden wins the international competition almost every year. I don't know that they know what they are singing, but they learn the words in perfect English. Our group sometimes struggles with trying to remove the southern-ness out of the words we sing," one member laughingly explained. Accents aside, the Fusion has prepared diligently, and the result will surely be a knock-out performance in this week's competition.
The 4-States Fusion Chorus is also known for being the fun group at competitions. The ladies of the Texarkana group always pick out a room in the building where the competition takes place and host a karaoke and line dancing party before and after they compete. Anybody from any choral group is welcome to join in. New friends and new memories are made, taking a tense, competitive situation and turning it into a great time.
As the group reflected on 2020, they all agreed that Covid was tough on them. They could not gather as they usually did and said that many chapters of the Sweet Adelines around the country disbanded because they could not practice. Texarkana's 4-States Fusion was determined not to let that happen. As hard as it was to make sounds blend, they practiced weekly via Zoom meetings. It was not the best-case scenario, but it carried the group through troubling times until they could meet again. In fact, at this week's competition in Richardson, 4-States Fusion Chorus will be wearing costumes that they got from another Sweet Adelines group in Lawton, Oklahoma, that had to disband due to Covid. The Fusion members look great in these red and black sequin outfits, pink eyeshadow, red lipstick, and eyelash extensions. They stand out and look like the show-stoppers that they are. The group claims Teresa Ackard as their "roadie." She does not sing, but her job is to ensure all the ladies match and are accessorized to the hilt. "It's a hard job, but somebody has to look after them. That's what I'm here for," Teresa said. The costumes are a fun addition to the Fusion's performance, but they also remind the group that they are much more thankful for the camaraderie that survived a tough time because some groups from other places weren't so lucky.
4-States Fusion members come from all walks of life. There are teachers, a respiratory therapist, a cosmetology school instructor, a coach, a nurse, a band director, a secretary, a saleswoman, and music teachers. They are wives, mothers, grandmothers, and friends. In the years they have been together, they have watched each other's children grow up, grandchildren being born, retirements, health issues come and go, and life change in the blink of an eye. Through it all, they have depended on the close friendships within the group to sustain them. Member Robin Hilton said, "I was an only child. Now I have sisters." That sisterhood is so important to these ladies because, as anybody with sisters will tell you, it's a safe space to step away from reality for a little while and act silly or say what's on your mind. The music brought these twenty women together, but the reward of these forever friendships is the icing on the cake.
If you have not seen these gals in action, do not miss your chance. They advertise their upcoming performances and fundraisers via social media, fliers, and the local newspaper. To see them and hear them is nothing short of pure joy. If only for a minute, you will swear that the world could be taught to sing in perfect harmony. Maybe all we need is the ladies of the 4-States Fusion and a Coke to lead the way.
Director- Julie Monholland Assistant Director- Gayle Bramhall
Lead: Becky Carmickle, Denice Collier, Robin Hilton, Adair Melton, Carol Mudford, Lacy Ward, Barbara Westfall
Baritone: Terry Domanski, Toni Henry, Karren Lukas, Carolyn Sturdevant
Bass: Anita Norwood, Carol Blair, Leean Fromm, Dianne Risner, Marti Stellphlug
Tenor: Gayle Bramhall, Jan Hodge
Roadie- Teresa Ackard