Topeka barbershop quartet disbands after 54 years of performing

Members of the Rip-Chords, Doug Exline, tenor; Herschel Stroud, lead; Tom Knoebber, bass; and Bill Hamm, baritone, a Topeka Barbershop Quartet that has performed for 54 years, have decided to retire. (Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal)

After 54 years of chartered airplane rides, rehearsals, two recorded albums and many, many performances, Topeka barbershop quartet the Rip-Chords has decided to hang up their pitch pipe.


Bill Hamm, who sings baritone in the Rip-Chords Barbershop Quartet, said the decision came after one of its members “just didn’t feel like he could sing anymore.” The group also agreed to end the quartet’s performances.

“It takes some time to teach a new guy all of the songs,” Hamm said.

The quartet’s four members are Tom Knoebber, bass; Herschel Stroud, lead; Doug Exline, tenor; and Hamm, all of Topeka. The quartet has entertained thousands at clubs, businesses, churches and other engagements in Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Chicago. The quartet sang on shows with Eddie Fisher, Henry Fond, and Kansas City Jazz singer and Topeka native Marilyn Maye.

“Basically any time they needed entertainment, we would perform a 20- to 30-minute show. We would perform 30 to 40 shows per year,” Hamm said.

“The wives have been very generous in allowing us to participate in a hobby like this — that not only takes us away from home to rehearse — but also takes us away from home when we go somewhere to perform,” Stroud said.

The Rip Chords give a performance.

The quartet was also featured at the Branson Music Festival in Missouri, and appeared on ABC Television’s “Good Morning America,” from Topeka with the State Capitol in the background, said Hamm, who retired in 1999 after 40 years of teaching music in the Topeka’s Unified School District 501.

“It has always been a pleasure to sing, as well as the personal pleasure of competing in contests, and helping raise funds for the medical/dental services of Marian Clinic at the annual ‘Music, Just What The Doctor Ordered’ concerts,” Hamm, spokesman for the quartet, said in a news release.

The quartet’s last performance was at the event, which was in 2016. The event is a fundraiser that allowed the quartet to do philanthropic work to help Topekans. “Until we hung up our pitch pipe, we were the oldest registered, functioning quartet in the entire society,” Stroud said while looking at old photos of the quartet as they sat in the library of The Capital-Journal.

“We would sing the same songs forever, with some new ones added. We would sing several religious hymns during church services in the summer. We also performed Broadway and some Pop songs,” Hamm said.

The quartet always had members from Topeka. The first members were Greg Lyne, Jerry Goacher, Knoebber and Stroud. The group would rehearse for an hour to two hours once a week at each others’ homes.

“It was not a drudgery because going to quartet rehearsal was really a release or a relief — if you want to think of it that way — of being able to go and enjoy something that three other guys enjoy doing with you. It was a joy. It was a pleasure. I miss these guys,” Stroud said.

“All our kids grew up with barbershopping. I have three daughters and one of them asked us to sing at her wedding reception. Tom has five daughters and we sang at three of the girls’ weddings,” Hamm said.

“The Preacher and the Bear,” is one of the quartet’s songs they would sing that all of their kids enjoyed hearing. “It’s probably one of our signature songs,” Stroud said.

Lyne, who lives in California, joined the group while a student at Topeka West High School and Washburn University. He left the quartet for graduate school, later becoming music director of the Barbershop Harmony Society, legally and historically named the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. Goacher lives in Florida and is a retired music teacher from Washburn Rural High School; Knoebber is co-owner of B & B Sign Company; and Stroud was active in his high school barbershop quartet in Peabody. In 1954, he was in the Air Force in Enid, Okla., where he formed a quartet with some other servicemen. He also started a quartet in dental school in Kansas City, Mo., and has been a barbershop society member ever since. He is a retired dentist in Topeka.

“There’s a certain amount of emptiness in my life because of seeing each other at least once a week and performing for both young and old and in between. There is sorrow and grief, and also joy and pleasure. What wonderful friends we’ve become over the years,” Stroud aid.

Hamm joined the group in 1962, which is when the quartet registered with the Barbershop Harmony Society as the Rip-Chords.

“I showed up one time, and that was it,” Hamm said of the active chapter after he moved to Topeka. He learned about the society and joined the quartet while attending Atchison High School.

Knoebber, Stroud and Hamm continued to be the core of the quartet. “The three of us have been around for a long time,” Hamm said.

“We’re a quartet of brothers,” Stroud said.

During the 54 years of singing, other members have included Bob Fox, Don Newman, and Exline, originally of Salina, who became a member after he and his wife moved to Topeka. He is a 12-year member and co-owner of Exline, Inc.

“It’s been wonderful to have this interaction over the years with these individuals and their families. We had a wonderful time. I’m sorry it’s over,” Stroud said.

The Rip-Chords would charter airplanes, back when fuel was affordable, to their contests. On one flight to Cheyenne, Wyo., people at the airport saw the advanced publicity in the local newspaper and thought the quartet was a group of parachuters, because of the quartet’s name.

The Rip-Chords performed at many nursing homes and serenaded many 100-year-old’s at their birthday parties.

Rip-Chords member Tom Knoebber designed the artwork for the two albums the quartet recorded. One was recorded in Topeka and the other in Lawrence. They have material for a third album.

The Rip-Chords have multiple costumes from over the years. Eventually the quartet plans to give them to organizations in Topeka. Some of the clothing includes tuxedos, sports coats, sweaters and hats.

The Rip-Chords would play the Knife and Fork Club circuit, a dinner/lecture series, held in different towns in the area.

Individuals would call-in on KTWU (PBS) Television and bid on the Rip-Chords to perform at social gatherings, weddings or anniversaries.

All together the four members of the Rip-Chords represent 231 years of Barbershop Quartet singing.

The Rip-Chords would perform for $100 and their expenses paid — hotel and meals — for the four of them.