The SUNTONES began singing in 1957 with Gene Cokeroft on tenor, Clark Bell singing lead, Bill Wyatt on baritone and Danny Whipple on bass. Wyatt wrote wild and crazy arrangements of songs like That Old Black Magic. In addition to singing barbershop, the quartet enjoyed singing "Hi-Lo's" songs and was known for their ability to tune chords.
Families and draft boards took their toll on original members and forced some personnel changes. In November of 1958 the SUNTONES were looking for a new bass, when into a chapter meeting wandered Bill Cain. He sang a song with Gene, Bill and Bob Franklin. The sound was so impressive they rehearsed nine nights in a row and entered the district contest. They were the surprise of the weekend, coming in second. The very next year, the quartet won the first district quartet championship of the newly formed Sunshine District. It was that weekend they met baritone Harlan Wilson. Their first exposure to the International Convention audience was in 1959 in Chicago where they placed 24th despite Bob having the flu.
In the spring of 1960, Bill Wyatt had to withdraw from the quartet. They called Harlan in West Palm Beach. In an instant, they knew that "this was it". The quartet burned up the Florida Turnpike every other night for six weeks to win the right to represent the Sunshine District in Dallas that summer. The SUNTONES placed eighth in Dallas
At the Barbershop Quartet's Society's International Competition in Philadelphia, the 1961 favorites for the gold medals where the Nighthawks and The Town and Country Four. By the semi-finals, the SUNTONES had the audience on their side. Call it luck, destiny or a little of both, the SUNTONES were picked to sing last in the top ten final round of competition Saturday night. They began that night by singing the beautiful Mighty Lak A Rose. The entire convention audience stood up. The cheers and applause seemed to go on forever. The quartet was a bit surprised. This was the first standing ovation received by a competitor in the history of the Society. As if it were fate, they ended the contest with a song that would become a trademark, Bye Bye Blues. The SUNTONES later discovered that they had racked up a 350 point winning margin. Some suggested even if they hadn't sung in the finals, they would have had enough points to win anyway.
As with all International Champion Quartets, they were crowned, celebrated, cheered, and treated like celebrities and sent home. Here is where many gold medalist quartets begin to slowly but surely disappear.
For the SUNTONES, it was only the beginning. After the championship year, the SUNTONES decided they might as well do this thing right. They began to set new standards and became innovators. The quartet decided to produce recordings as often as possible and sought professional bookings outside of barbershop circles. Their heavy schedule forced them to improve and perfect their presentation. It was hard work that paid off.
Soon the SUNTONES could be found singing at New York's Plaza Hotel on the same bill as Benny Goodman. When Jackie Gleason moved his popular variety show to Miami, he needed a barbershop quartet, the members of which could also serve as backup singers. The SUNTONES appeared with Gleason, Danny Thomas, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Mike Douglas and other well known stars such as Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Eddie Arnold, The Four Freshmen and even President Gerald R. Ford.
In addition to performing well, the SUNTONES set themselves apart by introducing new songs into their performances and by creating a library of recordings not yet matched in size by any other barbershop quartet.
Individually, each member of the SUNTONES grew in experience and talent as the quartet traveled the country. After the departure of Bob Franklin in 1979, the quartet continued to perform with Drayton Justus on lead, until their swan song in January of 1985 in Montclair, NJ during a special tribute to arranger Walter Latzko. They made a handful of appearances after 1985 until the International Convention in Calgary, Alberta Canada in 1993.
The current configuration of the SUNTONES has Bob Franklin back in the lead spot for the first time in over 25 years. Sadly, Bill Cain lost his battle with cancer in 2004. The Suntones’ final public appearance with Bill was at the 50th Anniversary of the Fairfax Chapter on October 18, 2003 though his health did not permit him to sing. Todd Wilson now sings bass.
The SUNTONES were ahead of their time, innovators in almost every field of quartetting. They were known for their Broadway show music, their sound system, (they carried their own and performed with individual hand held microphones), proactive management and an extensive library of recordings. With the release of their "Complete Works" five-CD, double album set, and the 2003 release of a new a new “Suntones LIVE” CD recorded in 1972, a new generation was able to re-discovere one of the all-time great quartets of the 20th Century. In 2005, the SUNTONES joined the Buffalo Bills as one of only two quartets to be inducted into the Barbershop Harmony Society’s “Hall of Fame.”
Written by Grady Kerr,
Barbershop Harmony Society historian
A TOUCH OF GOLD
The Chordbuster’s March
I Had The Craziest Dream
I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You)
That Old Black Magic
The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot
Doin’ The Raccoon
Mighty Lak A Rose
America The Beautiful
There’ll Be No New Tunes On This Old Piano
There’s A New Gang On The Corner
Hey Look Me Over
If You Can’t Tell The World She’s A Good Little Girl
All The Things You Are
Pass Me By
River Of No Return
Where Or When
After You've Gone
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS
O Worship The King
My Lord & I
You'll Never Walk Alone
Fear Not, My Child
I'll Fly Away Medley
Hymns of the Cross Medley
Breathe On Me, Breath Of God
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
What Wondrous Love Is This/O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
The Lord's Prayer
The Star-Spangled Banner/O Canada/Ode To Joy
Bye, Bye, Blues
They Didn't Believe Me
No, No, Nora
I'm Going Back To Carolina
A Little Street Where Old Friends Meet
A Bundle Of Old Love Letters
West Side Story Medley
a touch of old
The Old Songs Medley
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Daisy Bell, Little Annie Rooney, The Band Played On
Till We Meet Again
Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine/Heart Of My Heart (The Story Of A Rose)
Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland
My Gal Sal
Harrigan / Mary's A Grand Old Name
KEEP AMERICA SINGING
The Star Spangled Banner
This Is My Country
God Bless America
America The Beautiful
Give Me Your Tired Your Poor
World War I Medley
My Country Tis Of Thee
Battle Hymn Of The Republic
Show Me Where The Good Times Are
They Wrote 'Em In The Good Old Days
I Want To Hear A Yankee Doodle Dandy/The Yankee Doodle Boy/Down The Lane Of Memory/Memories
Fiddler On The Roof (Selections)
Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather)
May Each Day
AS TIME GOES BY
Irving Berlin Medley
Sweet Georgia Brown
Without A Song
As Time Goes By
Sound Of Music Medley
You're Nobodys Sweetheart Now
WHERE IS LOVE?
It's A Most Unusual Day
In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening
Left My Heart At The Stage Door Canteen
Be My Love
The Little White Cloud That Cried
Time In A Bottle
Where Is Love?
MY FAIR LADY
Great Gettin' Up Mornin'
My Fair Lady Medley
Elmer's Tune / Sam's Song Medley
The Three Bells
Your Eyes Had Told Me So
It Had To Be You