They call him Mr. Barbershop – and not the kind that will cut your hair.
Ninety-year-old Raman Briggs never had a formal music education. He grew up during the Great Depression when money was tight.
He got his education the old fashioned way, through lots and lots of experience.
He came from a musical family. He and his siblings would sing inside their western Wisconsin home while their mom played piano. But he got his big break in high school.
Briggs and three of his classmates formed their own barbershop quartet solely to perform during the school’s amateur hour. No, they weren’t performing in the talent contest. Their teacher wanted them to provide entertainment while the judges deliberated and chose the winner.
He remembers it like it was yesterday. They sang “My Grandfather’s Clock.”
“My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf, so it stood ninety years on the floor,” they crooned. “It was taller by half than the old man himself, though it weighed not a pennyweight more.”
Briggs told me it was kind of a funny performance.
“I was the clock pendulum,” he said, chuckling. “The guys would push me back and forth and I’d say, ‘tick, tock, tick, tock.’”
Afterward, they listened as the winners were announced. The judges told the crowd that the young lady who played accordion had won second place.
Briggs was shocked, to say the least.
“I couldn’t believe anyone was better than her,” he said.
He was even more surprised when the judges said his quartet had won when they hadn’t even competed. The audience started clapping, though.
“I guess they approved,” he told me.
That was the beginning of his barbershop quartet career. In the seven decades since then, he’s performed in more quartets than he can even keep track of.