Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2007 | People

A Fraternity of Singers: John Marshall

By Kelly Stavnes
John Marshall John Marshall has sung his way into the International Barbershop Harmony Society Hall of Fame.

John Marshall takes the stage, his bow-tie in place, a shimmery red vest reflecting the bright lights overhead. The curtain draws back and Marshall takes a deep breath, ready to blend his strong voice in perfect harmony with his fellow singers.

For 30 years, Marshall, 76MA, has followed his passion for barbershop singing -- an endeavor that's earned him many honors, including induction this past fall into the International Barbershop Harmony Society Central States District Hall of Fame. For someone who says he's "not usually speechless," Marshall admits that honor left him without words and wondering how he'd earned a spot among the ranks of his barbershop heroes.

"I tried to hold back the tears and appreciate it," he recalls. "The recognition means that some of the most important people in your life have determined that you're also important to them, and that's one of the biggest honors you can have."

Over the decades, Marshall has sung lead in seven local and regional choruses and served various leadership roles for the International Barbershop Harmony Society. In 2004, Marshall and his Missouri-based Ambassadors of Harmony group were crowned International Chorus Champions, besting more than 30 of the world's top competitive ensembles. To practice for another victory with his renowned chorus, Marshall regularly makes the eight-hour round trip to Saint Charles.

As a classically-trained vocalist, Marshall once planned a career in musical theater. Instead, he had a family and pursued a more stable career as an Iowa City-area elementary school teacher and principal. A colleague introduced Marshall to barbershop singing, a tradition-rich style that draws from European hymns and African and American folk music. Sung without accompaniment, it uses a four-part, closely blended harmony. It proved the perfect outlet for Marshall's talent.

"I didn't even know barbershopping existed," says Marshall, who believes it's taught him more about singing than his formal education. "But, the moment I started, I said, 'Gosh, where has this been all my life?'"

Another bonus is the camaraderie and friendship he's discovered.

"Barbershopping is a brotherhood," he says. "It's not only skill -- it's great fun."