From Our Vault: Singing in beautiful harmony
Four Lake Oswego businessmen who met playing golf at the Oswego Lake Country Club started a singing group in 1943 that became the talk of the town.
The four were Lou Lavachek, sales manager for Paul Murphy-Oswego Realtors; Mark Beach, head of Seaport Shipping; C. F. Corbett, owner of Service Auto Freight; and J. A. Van Leeuwen, traffic manager for Service Auto Freight. Together, they were known as The Oswego Four Barbershop Quartet, or The Oswego Four for short.
The golfing rivals gathered every Tuesday night at one of the men's homes and "sang their heads off" while sitting around the kitchen table. Soon, they developed a repertoire of more than 50 songs.
None of the arrangements were written down, which speaks to the quartet's remarkable musical memory and talent. Any one of the four could — and did — alternate with the baritone lead or bass, depending on the number of singers, their mood or anything else they felt needed rearranging.
Van Leeuwen wrote parodies of the songs for special occasions — another indication of The Oswego Four's talent. Some of the songs they sang were "My Blue Heaven," "St. Louis Blues," "September Song," "Brother Bill," "Ida," "Shadrock," "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home" and "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now."
Word quickly spread around town about the group's talent, and soon there was not a night in the week when they were not invited to sing. The men loved to sing and share their musicality, and they would have accepted every invitation to do so, but they all agreed that they needed to limit their engagements so as not to interfere with their family and business lives.
Seven years after they started singing together, it occurred to the men that since they could not fill all the requests for singing engagements and often had to turn down paying gigs, they should instead request an honorarium that they would donate to various charities. Among the beneficiaries: The Christie School; the Girl Scouts; and the Infantile Paralysis Foundation, which provided funds to families who had been affected by polio and needed to purchase an iron lung.
The Oswego Four sang for governors, military brass, movie stars and countless social and civic groups. Their talents took them across the country; on a trip to New York in 1948, for example, they stopped at the Club Bagatelle for a set with the Deep River Boys, a popular American gospel music group of the time. It was an evening none of the Lake Oswego quartet ever forgot — they first performed as guest artists, singing some of their favorites, and then joined with the Deeps in an impromptu set.
The Oswego Four left a legacy of fine recordings during their 50 years of performing. Both the Oswego Heritage Council and the Lake Oswego Public Library have recordings of the songs arranged, rearranged and sung by the talented group.