26 YEARS- A CHRONOLOGY
Many things have had to go right along the way for Paul, Chuck, Mark and Glenn to remain together this long. The Beatles were only together 8 years. Learn more about some of the events and meet some of the people along the journey that has been the "Three Men and a Tenor" 26-year overnight success story.
THE FORMATION AND THE OPPORTUNITY THAT STARTED IT ALL:
It was January of 1992, and there was a problem... and then, an opportunity.
The Michigan State Men's Glee Club and Jazz Band were booked to perform together at a public concert in Grayling, Michigan. Only a few weeks before the show, the Jazz Band got an offer to play in Chicago on that same date, which created the Glee Club opportunity. Dr. Jefferson Johnson, director of the Glee Club offered that if anyone wanted to form a group, or sing a solo, or play an instrument, could audition within days of the announcement to help fill that concert time. He stated that he was nervous that with only 2 weeks to prepare, it would only be a select few that would make it in the show. For Paul Felch, Chuck Colby, Mark Stiles and Glenn Williams, their formation was going to take a leap of "fate".
GET 3 BIG GUYS AND A LITTLE GUY - 'FOR ONE SONG, WE WOULD AT LEAST LOOK FUNNY'
Paul and Glenn (who at that time were sitting along side of each other in the first tenor section) decided to form the group. In addition to this one song opportunity, they had previously discussed maybe singing around campus at sororities and events. But for now, they had one song in a big show to prepare for. They asked Chuck to be the "front man", and he agreed. Then as time until the concert was running out, they asked another bass singer to be in the group and as fate would have it, he declined. With Paul being 6'4" and Chuck at 6'3", they realized that if they asked another tall guy (regardless of his natural vocal part) that "at least, that would look funny".
So they scanned the room and saw that Mark was the next tallest guy in the room (6'5").
When Mark agreed to do it, "THREE MEN and a TENOR" was formed... without ever singing a single musical note together.
The name came quickly... it fit the description of the guys, as well as the vocal parts. Over time however, the name would be a challenge to promote who they are and what they actually do, as it has always made radio/tv and record label executives pause in wondering if they are based in jazz, barbershop-style singing or opera music.
But once people started seeing the group live, their name was the perfect representation for who they were becoming and so it stuck. As they enter their 25th year together, a name change is highly unlikely at this point, but the challenge of mass marketing the group remains.
GRAYLING FILLER PRODUCTIONS, INC.- FUNNY NAME... BUT IMPORTANT TO THE HISTORY
When trying to come up with a name for the management company for the group, the foursome decided on "GRAYLING FILLER PRODUCTIONS", to honor the inspiration of how they formed - to be "Filler" in the Grayling concert. And so, when the group incorporated in 1995, they formed an S-CORP partnership using that name to never forget what got them started.
ONLY 6 MONTHS OF SHOWS BEFORE A MAJOR OBSTACLE - ARE WE IN THIS FOR THE LONG HAUL?
They had only been together as a group for 6 months before life started factoring in. Paul was offered a full-time job in the machining industry at a sheet metal fabrication shop in Detroit and moved to the D in the summer of 1992. Chuck and Mark and Glenn were still finishing at MSU. During the group's first year together, the guys made an effort to keep rehearsing and do as many shows as possible, with Paul making the trek back and forth to East Lansing on a regular basis. He was a regular guest on Chuck's couch and would often leave for his job at 5am from East Lansing, tired from the drive, but motivated by the shows and the direction of the group.
800 NUMBER AND GAS CARDS - WE NEED STUFF AND WE DON'T HAVE ANY MONEY... WHAT DO WE DO?
One of the early business decisions that the group made was to set up a toll-free 800-phone number for people to call so it would not cost them money to book the band. Soon after, came the decision to obtain Shell fleet gas cards so that it did not cost the guys their own money to get to shows. Any additional show fee money was invested back into the future of the group by purchasing wireless microphones, speakers, mixing boards, mic stands, other miscellaneous sound equipment, promotional items and a company vehicle to carry the group's equipment. This was a slow build, but the group was making strides advancing their name and their show.
It was three full years of shows before the guys ever individually took money from performances. All money that had been being earned was then re-invested in the equipment and performance/promotional items that were necessary for growth. This commitment cannot be overlooked by bands that are trying to get off the ground. 3MT made the decision that all money should be invested in the future of the group and by doing this, they grew the group to where they looked and sounded like a full time band, and soon after things began to help them confirm that decision.
SPARTAN PRESIDENT LOVES GROUP AND HELPS OUT - PRESIDENT DR. GORDON GUYER PLAYS HUGE ROLE
During MSU's spring break in March of 1993, Interim President Dr. Gordon Guyer and his wife Norma were doing alumni visits in Florida. 3MT timed their spring break trip to align with those visits so that they could be the alumni's featured entertainment. The shows were very well received and Dr. Guyer became a big part of the group's next major steps. That spring, at MSU events all over campus, 3MT was featured and supported by President Guyer and his wife. That summer, at a major Spartan event in Charlevoix, 3MT was the headline act, and soon, the phone began ringing due to that exposure. In addition to helping with exposure for the group, in a major show of support, the Guyers gave 3MT a personal check to help fund the creation of their first recording, with no timeline for repayment. It was a very touching gesture from very important people at the helm of a major Big Ten university.
TOO MANY SHOWS TO BE PART TIME, NOT ENOUGH MONEY TO BE FULL TIME - GETTING CLOSER TO A DECISION
Chuck moved to Dexter in the summer of 1994, putting both Paul and Chuck in the metro Detroit area, and Mark and Glenn were still in the Lansing area (interesting side note: in 2016, those are the two areas where the four members still live). Following the making of a commitment to each other to follow this musical path wherever it led, Chuck began his leadership role in booking the group with a full schedule of shows, featured appearances, and media appearances which helped to increase their name recognition and bookings.
SCHEDULE WAS FILLING UP - SUMMER 1995 WAS BUSY
By the summer of 1995, just 3 short years after their initial formation, it seemed like there was now enough work on the schedule to decide to make "Three Men and a Tenor" a full-time music career. Each of the other 4 "real jobs" were not quite enough to keep the guys from doing music full time, and the show schedule was starting to become an issue with needing too much time off, jeopardizing their ability to keep their employment elsewhere.
THE GROUP GOES FULL TIME- THE 3MT SHIP SETS SAIL...
Officially, in October of 1995, these four talented and diverse musicians began their full-time touring schedule, and Three Men and a Tenor was now a full-time professional act in Michigan. The group ramped up fast, quickly totaling as many as 250 shows in one year, proving that they made the right decision and that there was an audience for their shows if they could coordinate them all.
SCHOOLS AND THE COMMUNITY CONCERT- 3MT BUILDS ITS BASE AND HELPS RAISE MONEY FOR SCHOOLS
Chuck's first full time job out of college was working for QSP, a school-fundraising division of Reader's Digest. In his sales capacity, he started to offer schools a way to use the QSP fundraisers to bring in "Three Men and a Tenor" to do school performances as a special prize for reaching their fundraising goals. And it worked. It created school performances all throughout lower Michigan for 3MT. The more schools 3MT performed for, the more opportunities it created in other statewide school districts. This formula of doing the day-time shows for the schools, soon added a critical piece ... the night time concert. These communities would bring 3MT back about 2 weeks later following the daytime school performances. The night time shows would be presented by the choral and band music boosters at these schools, and in return for the partnership of helping sell the tickets for the show, 3MT would give these programs a split of proceeds from the door ticket sales as an additional fundraiser. It proved to be a winning combination for over 10 years and helped create hundreds of new performance opportunities for 3MT to help quickly launch them into full-time touring status.
OMNI ARTS AND 3MT IN THE INNER CITY DETROIT SCHOOLS- "WHAT ARE THOSE GUYS DOING HERE?"
3MT was hired in 1995 by Claudia Rogers and an arts outreach program sponsored by Omni Hospital called "OMNI ARTS IN EDUCATION" to perform a vocal music show in the inner-city Detroit elementary schools. 3MT was asked to do shows in some of the most economically challenged neighborhoods of Detroit, typically in neighborhoods with many boarded up, or burned down houses on the streets within blocks of the schools where they were asked to perform. 100% free and reduced lunch schools, and 80-90% racial ethnicity, with 5-10% white students on average. As anyone might expect, the initial moment that 3MT took the stage, there were looks of surprise and wonder on the faces of the kids in the schools. But it did not take long for the musical connection to be made and soon, the racial barrier (if there was any) was crossed when 3MT got the kids laughing and the teachers dancing as they performed in front of almost entirely African-American populated schools, while performing the music of Motown and other fun music. For digging in and doing their part, 3MT was one of the most sought-after shows in the Omni Arts roster and in 2002, they were presented the "SPIRIT OF DETROIT" award by the Detroit City Council for their work to help keep music alive in the Detroit Public Schools. It was an award that meant so much to the group, for not only did they make a musical connection to so many young people, they proved that music is color blind- if used properly, it could help bridge people together.
MIKE MCLEMORE - THE SOUND DOCTOR- 'BIG SOUND AND BIGGER SHOWS'
Not long after they began their full-time schedule, 3MT was at a featured performance in Adrian (MI) when they met Mike McLemore who was running sound and tech for the festival. Mike was the owner/operator of "The Sound Doctor" a full service sound/light/tech company. He had 20 years of running his own business of sound production, and a wide variety of options of sound equipment... enough to provide full PA support and lights for any/all of the upcoming Three Men and a Tenor performances. The two companies formed a collaboration, and 3MT now had full sound and light production at all shows, enough for just about any size venue across the country. By partnering with The Sound Doctor, they also gained the combined use of his full-service office staff that would help with bookings, contracts, and scheduling so that the group could begin ramping up the focus on the full schedule and bigger shows.
MARSHA LYTTLE, SHERRY MILLER, AND CHERI GAPINSKI: THE GROUP MOMS
For several years, as the group was getting more and more shows, the need for management was evident. And, the need to improve and maintain the voice and the vocals was critical. Marsha Lyttle was a small business marketing and management specialist who plugged in her expertise and services to help the group improve the promotional pieces that they sent out for bookings, and Cheri and Sherry were brought in as vocal coaches to make sure the guys were keeping on course for new songs, arrangements, and using proper vocal techniques to help sustain the voice on long tours. Those years of preparation and practice began to pay off for the group as the numbers of shows increased and the need to rest and repair the voice was necessary.
PAUL COOPER- 'THE GROUP STARTS DANCING' -
In 1998, at the Contemporary A Capella Society of America (CASA) Summit in Boston, 3MT met Paul Cooper, the lead singer and founding member of "The Nylons", a platinum-selling and grammy-award nominated pop a cappella group from Canada. With The Nylons, Paul had been on national TV, in major recording studios and earned industry respect as a professional singer/songwriter - all skills that 3MT could lean on to learn the stage craft for creating bigger vocal music shows. His experience in production and stage showmanship transferred over perfectly to help teach the guys how to dance and move together, taking 3MT from being 4 guys standing in one area singing, to a polished, more choreographed and stylized vocal music experience.
NOTE: Paul died peacefully in his sleep in December of 2013. His impact on THREE MEN and a TENOR is still felt in most shows and even in 3MT YouTube videos of the group you can sometimes hear Paul's voice in the count offs.
PREPPING FOR PBS-TV - THE GROUP HEADS FOR NATIONAL TV AUDIENCE
This new team of Three Men and a Tenor and Paul Cooper went on to produce the "Listen to the Music" and "You Better Watch Out" CDs, and then the team worked tirelessly for 18-months to prepare for taping a PBS-TV Music concert special with WCMU PBS-TV in Mt. Pleasant. When the funding for that first concert special fell through, the group then pitched their performance to the executives at Detroit Public Television in late 2002. DPTV was aware that 3MT had quite a following in Michigan and agreed to produce the show and would promote it nationally.
CREATION OF THE NATIONAL PBS-TV SPECIAL - "3MT NAILED IT... 90 MINUTE CONCERT SPECIAL AND NO RETAKES"
In April of 2003, Detroit Public Television (DPTV-PBS) filmed and produced a 90-minute music concert special "Three Men and a Tenor- In Concert" taped in front of a sold-out crowd of over 1700 in Dearborn, MI. The show eventually played in over 70 major and smaller TV markets across the nation. It was awarded an Emmy for "Best Live Shots". One of the major successes of the taping was that it was recorded "Live to Tape", meaning they would only stop in cases of major production flaws. Amazingly, the guys filmed their 90-minute show in one take with no retakes needed. It was a statement about how prepared they were for their big opportunity.
TWO PERFORMANCE TOURS OF US MILITARY BASES IN GERMANY - 'WE WANT YOU... CAN YOU PAY YOUR OWN WAY'?
In 2004 and 2006, the group was contacted by Marty Benstein, a vocal music teacher at a US Military Base in Germany. He had connections throughout the country on the different bases that could help him put a tour together. When 3MT enthusiastically replied that they were ready to do the tour, they found out that it would not be that easy to get there as funds were limited, and costs were high. Fortunately, the group had built up some corporate support along the way and received sponsorship funding with the support of GM's Foreign Car Exchange for the 2004 tour, and the Daimler Chrysler Corporation Fund and the Downtown YMCA of Lansing teaming up to help support the 3MT Freedom and Families tour in 2006.
Marty booked the two complex tours taking such care to promote and inform the families on the bases of just what 3MT could do to uplift their spirits, and he wanted the group to be seen by as many people as possible while they were there. He coordinated 23 shows in 12 days in 2004, and then booked 38 performances in 16 days for the 2006 tour. (To see a video from the US Military Base performance tours, click here.) As an unplanned part of the tours, the guys also made stops to Landstuhl Hospital in Ramstein to sing and lighten the mood of the wounded American soldiers. Those bedside moments were heartfelt and the group has admitted that their lives were changed by talking with the brave young men and women just off the battle fields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
NOTE: Sadly, Marty died from cancer in 2009, but his love and support for 3MT will never be forgotten and the group is still regularly in communication with his wife Hannah who now lives in Oregon and is still a VIP of 3MT.
HENRY FORD HEALTH SYSTEM (WEST BLOOMFIELD)- 3MT USES MUSIC TO HEAL IN HOSPITALS
That experience of singing at the bedsides of the wounded soldiers would have an interesting connection to a new 3MT opportunity. In 2006, Gerard VanGrinsven, former CEO of the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn, MI, became the CEO of the Henry Ford Health System in West Bloomfield, MI. (Learn more about the HFHWB here). West Bloomfield's campus was going to be a health care industry leader in America, "changing the boundaries of the imagination of health and wellness". GVG had previously hired 3MT on several occasions to provide corporate entertainment for his leadership symposiums. But for the new health system, he wanted the group to do something that no other hospital had ever done... have a musical singing group be a regular part of the healing process at the hospital. He knew 3MT had done this type of singing visits at the bedsides of the wounded soldiers in Germany, and so 3MT would be given 3-4 visits a month to visit the patient rooms and work their magic for the HFHWB patients. This relationship lasted over 6 years, and 3MT's mark on the wellness of the patients at that hospital will not be forgotten.
NATIONAL TV PERFORMANCE AUDITIONS - 'YOU GUYS SHOULD GO ON AMERICA'S GOT TALENT'
Around 2010, it became a regular comment from people after performances that 3MT should go on the nationally-televised talent competitions. So, in 2011, when the group won Mid-Michigan's Got Talent they got their shot to audition in New York City in front of the directors and producers for NBC's America's Got Talent. They also auditioned in Chicago for The Sing Off (the NBC-TV a cappella competition) making it through the initial audition phase, and impressing the producers of the show with their talent and showmanship. In both cases, 3MT put on a stellar vocal performance, but was not passed on to the next round. Admittedly, they were disappointed by not making it to national network TV, but knew that it was not an end, just part of the their journey.
OPENING PERFORMANCES WITH NATIONAL ICONS - JAY LENO AND 3MT WAS A PERFECT MATCH
As of 2017, 3MT has over 3,000 performances and has been seen LIVE, or on TV, by an estimated three-million people. It's 25-year history includes guest performances with or opening for American entertainment icons like:
The Beach Boys
AWARDS AND HONORS - 3-TIME WINNERS OF "BEST ENTERTAINMENT IN MICHIGAN"
Several awards have been bestowed upon 3MT including:
Best Entertainment in MI (4-time winners) - (2017, 2016, 2011 and 2006) - Michigan Meetings and Events Magazine
Highest-Rated Touring Group (1996) - Michigan Arts and Cultural Affairs
Entrepreneurs of the Year (2000) - Greater Lansing Business Monthly
Spirit of Detroit Award (1998) - Detroit City Council Award
ADDITIONAL "ROCK STARS" THAT HELPED 3MT OVER 25 YEARS- STARTED AS CONTACTS, REMAIN FRIENDS
Over 26 years, with the countless number of shows and projects, 3MT has gained some lifelong friends and supporters that have made some amazing contributions to the group. These folks have offered countless services and sacrifices, and should be recognized. Here is just a partial list of so many that have contributed: (in no particular order):
Kurt Thoma- Tech manager, road manager, equipment mgr., driver, manager, scheduler, problem solver, rock.
Gary Bender- Legal support for 3MT PBS-TV, recording projects, licensing/copyrighting, and all musical legal matters.
Dorothy Genoe- Office management, administration, accounting/bookkeeping, scheduling
Kirk Squiers- Consultant, financial supporter, project manager, tech support, tour manager, printing/banner maker
Andrew Harmon- Sound/light tech manager, sound guy, road/equipment manager, AZ tours designated driver.
Johnny Burke- Radio DJ, voice of show intro for 3MT, booking contact for Lobsterfest and Toys for Tots in Frankenmuth
"SuperFan" Nan Manley- Loving 3MT grandmother, passed away in 2015. Miss you Nan!
Rod Bushey- Choral director at Howell Public Schools, deeply involved with booking 3MT and working with his choirs
LucyAnne Lance- DJ in Ann Arbor, booked 3MT on her radio shows several times
Tom Pastotnik - Chief 3MT graphic designer, web designer, first "Flash" website designer, tech help, social media
Todd Fisher- YMCA Director and supporter of 3MT tours of Germany, 4 annual 3MT YMCA concerts at Wharton Center
Evan Arhangelos- Printing director, project manager, booking agent, support
Judy Hutchinson- Web design and development
JD Small- Several promotional photo shoots that perfectly captured the fun of the group
Bill Drake- First official business manager of 3MT in 1995 and road crew
Bill Ayars- Merchandiser/tech crew on both tours of Germany (61 performances)
......and hundreds more that have helped and offered guidance over the years! Thank you!
DONNY BROWN AND 3MT- NEW CD FOR 2018
As 3MT records their new CD in 2018, they are in the capable hands of Donny Brown, (formerly of 'The Verve Pipe') who is also launching his own very established solo career. DB has the magic touch when it comes to vocal arrangements, and he serves the music with unique ideas and interesting vocal twists. He wants this next 3MT project to be the benchmark of what is possible - and knows the loyalty and passion that 3MT fans have for the group. As the guys soak in their 26th anniversary year together, the new CD will be like nothing the group has ever produced before and yet will keep the feel of all of the elements that have made them so loved.
Long-time friend, sound guy, and local business man Kirk Squiers helped fund the new project to make sure that fans of 3MT get what they have all been hoping for - a new CD with some of the best songs the group has ever recorded.
SUMMARY - THANK YOU FOR THE LOVE AND SUPPORT
26 years. Ups and downs. Fights and fun. Marriages and children. Used cars and equipment trucks. Somehow, making it all work. Same original founding members. Same simple goal of making people feel better through a couple of hours of musical interaction and laughter. Come see a show and see what so many have enjoyed over the years, and expect that you will feel better- it is an experience that you can't help but enjoy and want to bring others to enjoy as well. For how many more years, who knows. But for now, you should catch it while you can