Note-Worthy: A Speed Read on Straight No Chaser
Straight No Chaser, the internationally famous a cappella group that originated at IU, marks its 20th anniversary this month with four days of concerts back home.
The group started harmonizing while students at IU.
David Roberts, Steve Morgan, and Randy Stine, all founding members of Straight No Chaser in 1996, still perform with the group today. Stine got “the call” from the CEO of Atlantic Records in 2008, and that’s when things really took off.
Its name is taken from the 1967 Thelonious Monk album.
“But it also represents what we do,” says Roberts. “We’re on stage, giving it to the audience straight. There are no fill tracks, no instruments—just our voices.”
Honestly? There are certain holiday songs they never want to hear again.
For Roberts, that would be Mariah Carey’s warbling of “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Stine changes the radio station whenever he hears the strains of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” And Morgan has had it with Eartha Kitt purring her way through “Santa Baby.” “The good news,” he says, “is I don’t see us ever trying to cover that one.”
But there’s one tune they’ll never abandon.
A YouTube video of Straight No Chaser singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” has been viewed nearly 20 million times, and helped propel them to stardom. “The old country adage is, ‘You gotta dance with who brung ya,’” says Morgan, “and the crowd still loves it when we go into the song.”
Some new classics have entered the mix.
A mash-up of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” with Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” is a particular fave of several members.
Their personal holiday playlists are a mix of modern and old-school.
“Mine is skewed probably toward Harry Connick Jr.,” says Roberts, opening his iTunes to check. “I have a lot of songs on his album When My Heart Finds Christmas. I’ve got some John Denver—Rocky Mountain Christmas.” Morgan also likes throwback music: “My mom and dad are huge Andy Williams fans, so his Christmas album was always the soundtrack to our tree-decorating.”
Yes, the guys are fans of Pitch Perfect.
And the sequel. And The Sing-Off, NBC’s a cappella competition. “When Pitch Perfect grossed over $100 million internationally in 2012 and had its soundtrack go platinum, it showed a cappella was ready for the mainstream,” says Morgan. “Anything that makes people feel less threatened when they see the description ‘a cappella concert’ can only be a good thing.” Roberts, for one, can definitely relate to the movie’s Barden Bellas and Treblemakers: “I like to joke that I have a hard time watching Pitch Perfect because it cuts pretty close. It’s real close.”
A cappella at IU is thriving—coincidence?
When Straight No Chaser’s original members began recording under that name, the IU a cappella group became known as Another Round. They’ve since been joined by vocal acts such as Ladies First; Hooshir, a coed ensemble; and Crimson Cadence, an octet.
Holiday carolers, listen up.
The guys have some thoughts for your own singing troupe this season. For Roberts, it’s all about the tunes—if “Frosty the Snowman” has grown stale for you, look elsewhere. “Pick songs that you have fun doing,” he says. But most of all, says Morgan, just do it. “Caroling is one of the greatest gifts you can give at Christmastime!” he says. “Go to people at a nursing home who can’t get out as easily, and watch their faces light up when friends and neighbors come to spread holiday mirth and cheer. It’s magical!”