Three Men & a Tenor
Sunday, May 13, 2018
In January of 1992, the Michigan State University Men’s Glee Club and the MSU Jazz Band were scheduled to perform a combined concert for the Grayling (MI) Performing Arts series, and the show was sold out. However, two weeks before the show, the Jazz Band backed out due to another booking. This left Dr. Jefferson Johnson, the director of the Glee Club with quite the dilemma… how would he fill the remaining :45 minutes of show time with two weeks to prepare? He decided that he would audition small groups or soloists to perform.
That dilemma created the opportunity for Paul Felch and Glenn Williams, (sitting along side of each other in the first tenor section) to form a group to sing at this show and potentially around campus for other functions. They asked Chuck Colby to sing with them, and he agreed. Then as time to prepare was running out, they asked another bass singer to be in the group and he turned them down. With Paul at 6’4″ and Chuck at 6’3″, they realized that if they asked another tall guy, regardless of his natural vocal part, they would have a funny sight gag from the moment they took the stage. So… Mark Stiles was the next tallest guy in the room (6’5″) and became their height-gifted target. When Mark accepted, “THREE MEN and a TENOR” was formed… without ever singing a single musical note together, and those four members have been together for over 23 years.
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 back to begin working a full time job in the summer of 1992. Chuck and Mark and Glenn still had some time left before they graduated, so for the first year the guys made an effort to keep rehearsing and performing together as often as possible, with Paul making the trek back and forth to East Lansing on a regular basis.
One of the early business decisions that the group made was to set up an 800-phone number for people to call the group for work, so it would not cost them money to book the band. The guys then signed up for Shell fleet gas cards so that it did not cost them 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.
In March of 1993, the guys in 3MT heard that MSU President Dr. Gordon Guyer and his wife Norma and several of the major administrators from the university would be touring through Florida. So, the guys piled into Glenn’s station wagon and headed off to Florida where they were featured entertainment at several MSU sponsored functions. Those shows lead to more performances for alumni all around Michigan and the road kept on going.
Chuck moved to Dexter in the summer of 1994, which now put Paul and Chuck in the Detroit area, and Mark and Glenn in the Lansing area (interestingly in 2015, that is where they all still live). With a commitment they made to each other to follow this path wherever it led, the guys were now taking more shows, featured appearances, and media appearances helping to increase their name recognition and bookings.
By the summer of 1995, just 3 short years after formation, it seemed like there was now enough work on the schedule to make a decision to make “Three Men and a Tenor” a full-time music career. Each of their jobs were not quite fulfilling enough to keep them from considering going on the road full time, and the show schedule was starting to become an issue with taking too much time off of their “real jobs” to keep their employment elsewhere.
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 going all in. The group ramped up fast, quickly totaling as many as 250 dates in one year, proving that they made the right decision and that there was an audience for their shows if they could get it out there.
Not long after they began their full-time schedule, 3MT was at a featured performance in Adrian (MI) at MapleFest 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 sound equipment enough to provide full PA support and lights for any/all of the upcoming Three Men and a Tenor performances, and so the 2 companies formed a partnership, and 3MT now had a full-time sound company that they would have at all shows. This also gave the group control over their show and their sound, helping to build the consistency of shows that they wanted to get to the next level.
In 1998, at the Contemporary Acapella Society of America (CASA) A Cappella Summit in Boston, MA, 3MT met Paul Cooper, the lead singer and founding member of “The Nylons”, a grammy-award winning pop a cappella group. Paul had been on national-TV, in major recording studios and was a professional singer/songwriter that 3MT could lean on to learn the stage craft. His experience in production and stage showmanship transferred over perfectly to make Three Men and a Tenor’s show more polished and professional, taking it from being 4 guys standing in one area singing to the audience, to a more choreographed and stylized vocal music experience that incorporated platform risers, lighting cues and atmospheric stage elements to give the audience a bigger experience, and help the group have a better production impact.
This new team of Three Men and a Tenor and Paul Cooper went on to produce “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. The sales pitch worked, and DPTV agreed to produce “Three Men and a Tenor” and promote it nationally. 3MT went into vigorous rehearsals and preparing for national TV for the next 5 months.
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 house in Dearborn, that was then played in over 70 major and smaller TV markets across the nation. The show won an Emmy for “Best Live Shots” as the show was filmed “live to tape”, meaning they would only stop in cases of major production flaws, and 3MT nailed it… not one time did they need to stop and go back and get something again. Three Men and a Tenor filmed their 90 minute show in one take.
In 2004 and again in 2006, the group was put on extensive performance tours of the US Military Bases in Germany. They performed 23 shows in 12 days on the 2004 tour, and 38 performances in 16 days on the 2006 tour. To see a video from the US Military Base performance tours, click on this link. Those tours were the inspiration for the song “Little GTO” when GM helped to sponsor the first tour. 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 that were just off of the front lines of battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those bedside moments were life-changing and helped add a very real element to why the group was there, and the importance of helping the soldiers, and their families feel better and to lift their spirits.
In 2011, the group won Mid-Michigan’s Got Talent and was fast-tracked 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” making it through the initial audition phase, and impressing the producers of the show with their talent and showmanship.
The nature of the group’s show is very playful and genuine, engaging and involving all ages and musical tastes, which typically helps the group win audiences more then awards. However, several awards have been bestowed upon them including The Best Entertainment in Michigan (2011 and 2006) by the Michigan Meetings and Events Magazine, and the Highest-Rated Touring Group by the Michigan Touring Arts Association in 1996.
As of 2015, 3MT has over 2,500 performances and has been seen on TV or in live-performances by an estimated two-million people. Their 23-year history includes guest performances with American icons like Jay Leno, The Beach Boys, Dionne Warwick, Lee Greenwood, Gary Puckett, and Bob Newhart.
23 years. Same original founding members. Still having fun. 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 do again.