1959 International Quartet Champions
Larry Hedgpeth (Tenor); Keith Keltner (Lead); Wendell Keith Young (Baritone); Joe Delzell (Bass)
Our 50th anniversary champs were simply small town boys who made it big. They went from the farms in old Missouri to the top of the music world and had a lot of fun along the way.
This year we celebrate our 1959 Gold Medalists, The Four Pitchikers.
The boys began singing together in high school in the heart of the Ozarks and a town of less than 200 people, Nixa, Missouri. They originally named themselves The Teen Tuners. The quartet consisted of Larry Hedgpeth, tenor; Keith Keltner, lead; Keith Young, baritone and Johnny Marriot on bass.
The year was 1950 and the boys visited the Springfield – Heart of the Ozarks chapter up the road. They were immediately “bitten by the barbershop bug”. The Teen Tuners joined up and even competed at district for a few years while still in high school.
After high school Johnny took a job out of town while the other three attended Drury College in Springfield and began looking for a new bass. Even by this time all were experienced musicians, singing and playing several instruments.
Brand new to barbershop, future Society Hall of Famer, SK Grundy was looking for a quartet to try out his new arrangements. He really liked the sound of the three Teen Tuners but they needed a bass. In May of 1955 he persuaded an experience quartet man, Joe Delzell, to join.
Grundy provided custom arrangements, helped them get organize and coached them as well. He so involved in the quartet they considered him the fifth man.
This new combination became The Four Pitchikers. They only had 25 miles distance between them so rehearsing twice a week was the norm. They worked hard and few had any doubt they would be successful.
With an active show and rehearsal schedule, great coaching from Grundy and innovative arrangements, they began their climb up their contest ladder.
They placed 8th at regional, second at district and soon qualified for their first International quartet contest. It was in Minneapolis in June ‘56 they placed FOURTH. Thanks to their hard work and the perfectionist, SK Grundy they would never place lower.
They won the Central States District quartet championship that October and the next International repeated as fourth place medalists in Los Angeles ‘57, they moved up to Second in Columbus 1958.
The 1959 convention was held in the Chicago Civic Opera House with an overflow crowd of 5000 fans cheering them on.
They performed their six best songs including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, “That Tumble Down Shack In Athlone” and “Lora-Belle Lee”. Among the 39 other quartets were five future champs (Gala Lads – Oriole 4 – Evans Quartet – Town & Country Four – Suntones).
When the smoke cleared, The Four Pitchikers won their International gold medals by only 64 points. But it was enough to make all those hours of hard work worth the time and effort. They had great support from their chapter, district and family. All four were married by now and the wives were and important part of their quartet.
In fact Keith and Wanda Keltner were wed just prior to the International Convention. During their acceptance speech, Keith told the audience of 5,000, “I’ve only been a BRIDE for seven days”. He only realized what he had said later that night.
At the time of their winning, Larry was 24 and a building contractor, Keith Keltner was 23 and running his family’s tire an oil company, Keith Young was a 24 year old carpenter and Joe was 42 and a government office employee.
The return home was special. They were celebrated with a “Pitchikers Night” during the next Springfield chapter meeting with about 200 family and friends including a very proud coach and mentor, SK Grundy.
The group performed in 42 states, Mexico and Canada. They literally canvassed the four corners of the nation as they performed three out of every four weekends, on average, with an approximate 50 appearances a year.
For many years they were “regulars” on the nationally broadcast Ozark Jubilee television series. The Pitchikers had special spots on the show each weekend and did all the vocal background music for stars appearing on the show. Once they were even introduced on the Jubilee by Gene Autry. He introduced them as “Four Pitch Pickers”. They even got to meet and sing for Irving Berlin.
During their career they shared the stage with The Jordanaires. Rex Allen, Sr., Eddie Arnold, Pat Boone, Walter Brennan, Ray Charles Singers, Perry Como, Jimmy Dean, Everly Brothers, Red Foley, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Waylon Jennings, Brenda Lee, Lennon Sisters, Ted Lewis, Willie Nelson, Osmond Brothers, Debbie Reynolds, John Ritter, Tex Ritter, Doc Severinsen, Diana Shore, Mel Tillis, Lawrence Welk, and Andy Williams.
The Pitchikers enjoyed a special LIVE TV appearance on the Perry Como Show. They sang two songs with Como as the performance was broadcast across the nation from New York City.
In 1961 Hedgpeth took a construction job in Alaska so, in June, Keith’s brother, Ken Keltner filled in for Larry so the group could honor its performance commitments.
They sang over eight and a half years and performed extensively. They sang their last performance together was in December of 1963.
All remained active in the chapter and Joe Delzell served as a chapter vice president and went on to learn the baritone horn, tuba and trumpet would play with the renowned Springfield Symphony.
Two members have passed on. Larry Hedgepeth died March 9, 1999 at the age of 63 and we lost Joe Delzell on September 1, 2004. He was 87. His son is active in the Kansas City chapter.
The Four Pitchikers were “always available” and never too busy or too good to sing with anyone. They were ever-willing, hard working, clean cut, morally fine and true barbershoppers at heart.
These farm boys grew up to become fine entertainers and shared their love of harmonizing with a nation.
We salute Larry Hedgepeth, Keith Keltner, Keith Young and Joe Delzell. Champions all!