The following is reprinted with permission from The E-Ticket magazine. The text is from issue Number 27, Summer 1997, pp. 4-7.
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Today's (1997) Dapper Dans. These four-part fellows, John Heffron (tenor), Jim Campbell (bass), Bill Lewis (baritone), and Shelby Grimm (lead) are probably harmonizing on Main Street right now.
The Dapper Dans
Walt Disney and his Disneyland planners intended Main Street to serve as a nostalgic and pleasing separation between the realities of the outside world and the magic with the Magic Kingdom. As guests stroll past symbols from the turn-of-the-century, like the Victorian storefronts, gaslight lamps and horse-drawn streetcars, theyre made more receptive to what Disneyland has to offer. The Dapper Dans of Disneyland, Main Streets enduring barbershop quartet, have been an inseparable part of the Main Street experience since their beginnings in 1957. Disneylands Main Street is small town America. Barbershop harmony is an American invention, and when it is performed by the Dapper Dans, the Main Street atmosphere is complete.
Members of the first Dapper Dans quartet sing Sheik Of Araby, Cecilia, or one of the other traditional songs often heard along Main Street.
The Dapper Dans first started when Disneylands Tommy Walker contacted Park talent supervisor Chuck Corson and said that Disneyland needed a barbershop quartet. Corson (a former Stage Manager for the Fred Waring Chorale) contacted some of the singers from that group, and they came to Disneyland at his request. They began performing on Main Street, and after several changes the first long-running Dapper Dans quartet was formed. It consisted of John Borneman (tenor), Roger Axworthy (lead), T.J. Marker (bass) and Ted Nichols (baritone). This group worked together for years, and established the Disneyland Dapper Dans tradition. Later members were often recruited from nearby Chapman College, where an active music department groomed students to come to Disneyland as professional musicians.
The quartet has always performed in a harmonious style more general than that found within the traditional barbershop quartet "society." Although coached in the 50s by well-known S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. member Earl Moon to get that barbershop sound, the Dapper Dans have remained more a mens vocal quartet. Few of their arrangements are straight barbershop music. They perform barbershop, of course, but with a softer sound, with an emphasis on entertaining Disneylands more general audience. They have tried for a melodic effect (pure barbershop singing uses tight, straight tones and specific vowel formations) and they will often include a funny "bit" when they can. While singing, they move together (sometimes three against one) tap dancing, kneeling, and using their straw hats as props in humorous variations. As you enjoy the Dapper Dans harmonious Main Street performance, youll see that they constantly interact with people, using vaudeville style humor and routines to involve their audience and increase the entertainment they provide.
The 1965 quartet (Ron Browne, Tom Knox, Fred Frank, and Jim Schamp, left to right) add their harmony to the atmosphere found in Frontierland's little town of Rainbow Ridge.
The Dapper Dans actually rival the Golden Horseshoe Revue in their longevity at Disneyland. Other Disneyland musical groups (like the Disneyland Band or the Make Believe Brass) consist of "cast members," but the Dapper Dans have always created their own material, organized themselves and had more autonomy. The quartet has done many outside gigs and has toured Sweden twice, Australia once. Theyre full-time now, but theyve worked part-time, weekends only, and have even been at times on hiatus from the park. One of their strengths has been flexibility. As live entertainment at Disneyland evolved, they have adapted and appeared as Danny and the Dappers (for the 1987/88 Blast to the Past), theyve sung sea chanteys as the Jolly Tars, cowboy music as the Cowboy Buckaroos and become the scary Monster Shop Quartet during the Halloween Treat events.
This 1963 photo features Gene Morford (bass), Jim Schamp (tenor), Ron Browne (baritone), and lead singer Perry Carter.
As many as a hundred singers have participated in the group, and a number of past quartet members are involved today, performing as substitutes. One of these is Perry Carter, a past group leader who played an important part in the history of the Dapper Dans. He performed with the group from 1963, and became personally focused on the music the quartet had performed. He was the groups leader for six years, and he organized their arrangements, preserving the music for the Dapper Dans to come. Before Carters efforts, their music had been an oral tradition, and when the Deagan Organ Chimes were added (gained when the Florida quartet was formed, with chimes, in 1971), he also recorded that material on paper. The current leader of the Dapper Dans is lead singer Shelby Grimm. He has been with the quartet since 1987, and is now the keeper of the groups music library and other historic material. He told us that their custom Schwinn four-seater was ordered especially for the Dapper Dans by Walt Disney.
The Dapper Dans of 1987 (at the Kodak Portrait Studio) was comprised of Shelby Grimm (baritone), Jim Schamp (lead), Ron Browne (bass), and Rick Allan (tenor).
Collectible souvenirs of the Dapper Dans quartet are few. The "Official Honorary Member" card, given out since 1960, is highly prized by daring Disneyland visitors able to step up and sing with the group.
There are many stories of the Dapper Dans special performances for Walt and Lillian Disney. The group would often wander the interiors of the Main Street shops, to stand and perform for Walt and Lillian Disney and a few of the shop employees. They would be called down to the back room of Hills Brothers Café (also known as the "egg house") to sing some of Walts favorite tunes during his breakfast. Theyd be the only ones there, and they would serenade the Parks creator with Sweet Adeline, When You Were Sweet Sixteen, and of course, Lida Rose. Lillian Disney has been, for many years, a supporter of these classic forms of music at Disneyland. She kept the Golden Horseshoe running for many years, and has always been in the Dapper Dans corner.
The quartet poses as they conclude Happy Days Are Here Again at the Carefree Corner (in 1980). This group included Rick Allan (tenor), Doug Scott (bass), Tim Reeder (baritone), and Perry Carter (lead).
The current Dapper Dans quartet has been singing together for over two years. There is a change in the quartet usually every three years time passes, voices change, people move away. There are singers who dream of being in the Dapper Dans, but only a well-rounded performer can be selected. A Dapper Dan must move well, sing and harmonize well, and display a positive personality. He must relate to people without any hesitation, and thats a gift not everyone has. As Shelby Grimm put it, "The Dapper Dans are the ambassadors of Main Street. Were one of the few groups that actually talk with and interact with people in the Park, and few performers have the opportunities that we do. We can do a complete show, spontaneously, or we can focus our performance on one little kid. We span the whole spectrum of Disneyland entertainment."
The Dapper Dans often contribute to Main Street's ambiance, astride the custom Schwinn bicycle special ordered for them by Walt Disney. This is shown in the 1965 publicy still.