Thursday, June 11, 2015

Throwback Thursday: A Weekend with Accent, The Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited in Denton, Texas

Accent, Simon Akesson, Andrew Kesler, Evan Sanders, Danny Fong, Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas
In April, I had the immense fortune to attend a weekend of events at the University of North Texas, honoring the late Gene Puerling. I've been trying to put this experience into words ever since. Even as a writer, it's immensely difficult to describe just what this weekend meant to me.

Gene Puerling was the founder and arranger of both The Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited. Both of these groups changed the trajectory of vocal music. Puerling's unique style of arranging influenced so many groups to come, including one of my favorites, Take 6 ... and all of these groups in turn influenced my brother's international a cappella group, Accent, which is how I came to attend this weekend in Texas. (I'm seen with them in the photo above. From left: Simon Åkesson, Andrew Kesler, Evan Sanders, me, Danny Fong.)

Why Denton, Texas, you might wonder? The University of North Texas (and the College of Music) is located there, and the Director of Vocal Jazz, Jennifer Barnes, just happens to be the daughter of one of the members of BOTH The Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited, Don Shelton. She worked tirelessly with Puerling's widow, Helen, to acquire The Gene Puerling Collection, which is now housed in the Special Collections section of UNT's Music Library. All of the charts are, surprisingly and excitingly, in pristine condition, thanks to the fact that they were stored in Tupperware tubs in Puerling's home before being transferred to the music library.

In addition to organizing a special viewing of the collection, Jennifer also orchestrated a truly magnificent weekend of events, complete with vocal jazz concerts, talks and panels with the surviving members of The Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited, and even a dinner at her house with them, the Accent guys and myself.

Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas, Don Shelton, Clark Burroughs, Bonnie Herman
Watching the surviving members of The Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited -- Clark Burroughs, Bonnie Herman and Don Shelton -- as they pored over Gene Puerling's charts at the UNT Music Library.

Accent, Simon Akesson, Andrew Kesler, Evan Sanders, Danny Fong, Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas
Listening to Accent tell their story during a panel organized by Jennifer Barnes.

Accent, Simon Akesson, Andrew Kesler, Evan Sanders, Danny Fong, Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas, Clark Burroughs, Bonnie Herman, Don Shelton, Mervyn Warren, Take 6, Jorge Estrada, Jeremy Fox
The entire panel organized by Jennifer Barnes, each of whom had the chance to tell their stories of how they were influenced by Gene Puerling. L-R: Jennifer Barnes, Simon Åkesson, Danny Fong, Evan Sanders, Andrew Kesler, Don Shelton, Clark Burroughs, Bonnie Herman, Jorge Estrada, Jeremy Fox, Mervyn Warren.

I must admit that my original reason for attending the weekend's events was a bit selfish and not necessarily anything to do with Gene Puerling or his musical groups. I really just wanted to meet the guys from Accent that my brother has been spending so much time with over the past few years, both virtually and in person. (For more on their unique story, make sure to watch this video.) Coincidentally, today marks a year since the guys first met in person on their trip to Sweden!

I'm so glad I was finally able to get to know 3 out of the 6 Accent members: Andrew Kesler, Danny Fong and Simon Åkesson. (JB Craipeau from France and James Rose from England were unable to make the trip, and of course I'd say I already know my brother pretty well.) The story of how these guys came together is so inspirational and listening to them sing was a true delight. Not to mention they incorporated me into all of their inside jokes and welcomed me, quite literally, with open arms (all of them hugged me immediately upon our meeting). But, really, the weekend ended up becoming so much more meaningful than I could have imagined.

Accent, Simon Akesson, Evan Sanders, Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas
Evan, Simon and me caught by Danny on our way to lunch.

Accent, Danny Fong, Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas
In an impromptu moment, Danny and I decided to switch glasses. I think we both look smashing.

Accent, Evan Sanders, Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas
Beyond touched that my brother asked me to share in this weekend with him and his Accent buddies. This photo was taken during a visit to In-n-Out at the end of the trip.

Accent, Simon Akesson, Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas
Meeting Accent's Simon Åkesson from Sweden? This was a thrill!

My musical world has opened up so much more since the weekend I spent in Texas with Accent, The Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited. While I had definitely listened to songs by The Singers Unlimited over the years (the number of times I've listened to "My Romance" and "Michelle" is countless), I didn't fully appreciate their reach or influence until that weekend in Texas. But now, having listened to their stories and spent time with them (especially the incomparable Bonnie Herman, who has the purest, clearest, most beautiful voice on the planet), I have a newfound love for all things Puerling.

Accent, Evan Sanders, Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas, Bonnie Herman
Meeting the utterly divine Bonnie Herman of The Singers Unlimited. A purer voice never existed! Plus, she loved talking to Evan and me and was fascinated by the fact that we're siblings and best friends. (We're awesome, we know.)

Accent, Evan Sanders, Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas, Mervyn Warren, Take 6
Meeting the incomparable Mervyn Warren, founding member of Take 6 and responsible for the music of Sister Act 2, The Preacher's Wife and Whitney Houston's One Wish album, among many others. A true bucket list moment for Evan and me!

Accent, Danny Fong, Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas, Bonnie Herman, Don Shelton
Danny and I were completely enraptured by Bonnie Herman and Don Shelton as they told us stories during a dinner organized by Jennifer Barnes.

Accent, Simon Akesson, Andrew Kesler, Evan Sanders, Danny Fong, Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas
The guys of Accent sight reading one of Puerling's charts at the UNT Music Library. Don Shelton and Mervyn Warren are talking in the background.

I also really enjoyed getting to see the guys from Accent meet some of their musical idols. These are the groups who helped them come together from all over the world. It was beyond special to watch them interact with these musical influences, in addition to hearing them sing multiple times throughout the weekend (to enthusiastic results each time).

Accent, Simon Akesson, Andrew Kesler, Evan Sanders, Danny Fong, Gene Puerling, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Lo's, University of North Texas, Bonnie Herman, Don Shelton, Clark Burroughs
The men of Accent with the surviving members of The Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited. Watching them in this moment was unbelievably special.

It may sound trite to say my life was forever changed by this weekend, but it really is true. The people in these groups have made a profound, lasting impact on music and in turn on my appreciation of it. If these groups are new to you, I encourage you to find them on iTunes, CDBaby or Spotify and give them a try. I have a feeling you won't be disappointed.

12 comments:

  1. What an amazing weekend, indeed!

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  2. What fun! Glad you had a great time! <3

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  3. So cool! Sounds like it was lot of fun!

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  4. Sounds like a lot of fun! I was looking for my friend, Dave, in the background of your pix, lol, because he's a scientist/faculty member at the university there

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  5. So fun!!! You got a lot of good pics!

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  6. Looks like you had a fabulous weekend! So much fun!

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