Jump to: Mini Bio (1) | Trivia (6)

Mini Bio (1)

In 1947, baritone Hershel Smith, a corporate executive, and lead singer Al Shea, a policeman, got together at Smith's home in Buffalo New York with the idea of forming a barbershop quartet. Tenor Vern Reed, an executive for a boys' club, and bass Bill Spangenberg, a truck driver for a steel company were added. The quartet competed at various competitions with modest success. Shortly afterward, Smith was promoted and transferred to Madison Wisconsin, and the quartet was disbanded. Had they not reorganized, the entire face of barbershop harmony may have been vastly different than it is today.

However, Shea and Reed insisted on continuing, and they found baritone Dick Grapes. The quartet blossomed quickly, winning a national competition in 1950, and developing quite a fan club. Over the next few years, they booked many engagements and cut some records.

In 1956, composer Meredith Willson was looking for a quartet to appear in his new musical "The Music Man". The Bills won the audition and were cast in the play, which was to open on Broadway. This required the quartet to give up their jobs and move to New York. Grapes decided to stay in Buffalo at his job. He was replaced by veteran barbershop baritone Wayne "Scotty" Ward. The four of them; Reed, Shea, Ward, and Spangenberg, performed eight shows per week for a total of 1,375 performances and five Tony awards. During this time, the Bills also appeared on several television shows (most shows originated in New York in the 1950s), including the Perry Como Show and Arthur Godfrey Show. In addition, the group made more records.

In 1962 the musical was adapted for the screen, with the same four Bills appearing. Shortly after the movie was finished, Spangenberg became ill and was forced to leave the quartet. He was replaced by bass Jim Jones. Spangenberg died in 1963.

The Bills continued to appear at nightclubs, state fairs, and other shows, as well as make other recordings. Internal issues and some health problems caused the quartet to be disbanded; they made their last appearance in May of 1967. Shea died a year later in 1968, Ward in 1988, Reed in 1992, Smith in 2007, and Grapes in 2015. Jim Jones is, as of this writing (2017), still with us.

Overall, the Buffalo Bills made an estimated 6,000+ appearances. They are widely considered to be the greatest barbershop quartet of all time. Their unique style set the standard for other quartets. Their popularity will probably never be duplicated by another barbershop quartet.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Tom Barrister

Trivia (6)

"The Music Man" author, Meredith Willson, had heard the Buffalo Bills' recordings, and asked them to audition for the stage musical. Joining the cast meant leaving their jobs and moving to New York for the run of the show.
After the movie The Music Man (1962), the quartet lasted another five years. They retired from performing in 1967, with their last show taking place at the prestigious Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.
Over the years, the group (in its various incarnations) performed at military bases in France, Germany, Austria, Japan, and Korea.
The group went through many personnel changes over the years. The quartet, featured in both the original Broadway stage run and the movie The Music Man (1962), consisted of Al Shea, Vern Reed, Wayne Ward (aka Wayne "Scotty" Ward) and Bill Spangenberg.
In 1947, an unnamed foursome began singing for community groups in Buffalo, New York. At one such performance, they were introduced as the "Buffalo Bills", and the name stuck.
When Spangenburg became ill and was forced to retire, bass Dale Jones replaced him for a few months, before Jim Jones took his place for the duration of the group's run.

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