Sweetheart serenade: Local barbershop quartets turn on the Valentine's Day charm

Corey Perrine/Staff 
 Don Kirkpatrick is hugged by Linda Slade after performing at her Kensington Golf & Country Club home Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 in Naples, Fla. The for hire barbershop quartet, The Tropical Depressions, surprises dozens of neapolitans each year by singing love songs to them in public or at their work as a gift from loved ones. They usually sing one to three songs of which 'Story of a Rose' and 'Let me Call you Sweetheart,' are popular favorites. They formed as a offshoot from the Paradise Coastmen Barbershop Chorus. Jim Shubert said he wanted to create a quartet after leaving Illinois in 2009 and composed of singers who lived here full time since the Coastmen is largely composed of 'snow birds.' They foursome formed in the spring of 2010 and have been singing since. 'We're not going to make a living doing this,' Shubert said. 'It's just something we do, to keep us busy.'

Photo by COREY PERRINE, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff Don Kirkpatrick is hugged by Linda Slade after performing at her Kensington Golf & Country Club home Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 in Naples, Fla. The for hire barbershop quartet, The Tropical Depressions, surprises dozens of neapolitans each year by singing love songs to them in public or at their work as a gift from loved ones. They usually sing one to three songs of which "Story of a Rose" and "Let me Call you Sweetheart," are popular favorites. They formed as a offshoot from the Paradise Coastmen Barbershop Chorus. Jim Shubert said he wanted to create a quartet after leaving Illinois in 2009 and composed of singers who lived here full time since the Coastmen is largely composed of "snow birds." They foursome formed in the spring of 2010 and have been singing since. "We're not going to make a living doing this," Shubert said. "It's just something we do, to keep us busy."

Four men in matching black suits and bowties piled out of a sport utility vehicle. One held a rose as the group loitered on the sidewalk of a gated community in Estero Wednesday morning.

"You guys look like funeral directors," resident Dennis Bielecki said as he walked past.

"Would a funeral director wear this," asked Don Kirkpatrick, pointing to his red and gold vest.

They aren't funeral directors, and just to prove it, the four members of the Tropical Depressions parody quartet sang a few bars of "Story of a Rose" for Bielecki before going on their way.

Each year lead singer Kirkpatrick, tenor Bob Rose, bass Jim Shubert and baritone Bob Byron surprise sweethearts in Southwest Florida with love songs the week of Valentine's Day. They comprise one of five quartets from the Paradise Coastmen Barbershop Chorus, singing four-part harmonies around town Tuesday, Wednesday and today.

The annual singing Valentines are arranged by Bob Slade of the Paradise Coastmen. This time of year, Slade answers his phone by saying "Valentine Central," taking reservations for the quartets. The Coastmen sang to 51 recipients last year. As of Wednesday, Slade had already received 68 requests for this season, and is still accepting last-minute calls.

The Tropical Depressions' first customer Wednesday was Pat Jenkins, whose husband Jim Jenkins made sure she was waiting at home when the quartet knocked.

"Oh my goodness, oh my goodness," Pat said when she opened the door and the troupe asked to enter.

"May you come in? I'll say," Pat said. "Look at all these handsome guys."

Clutching her rose, she and Jim settled in on the couch while the quartet serenaded them with two love songs.

"From you, I never can sever/ Say you'll be mine forever."

Pat kissed Jim and asked for a third song. The quartet obliged.

"This one's for Jim," Kirkpatrick said.

"We got married last Friday/ My girl was right there beside me/ Our friends were all gone, we were alone, side by side/ We were so happily wed when/ She got ready for bed then/ Her teeth and her hair, she placed on a chair, side by side."

The song was a risk but a hit and the Jenkins sent the Depressions packing, laughing as they waved goodbye.

The quartet loaded back into their vehicle and headed to the Bonita Bay Club where they planned to surprise Byron's wife Sue, who was scheduled to lunch with some friends.

"This is called hiding," Kirkpatrick said, as Byron and Shubert pressed themselves up against a cinderblock wall in a room off the entrance to the club house. A group of women wandered past before the men reemerged, avoiding detection in the minutes before their scheduled appearance.

Sue Byron and seven friends each received a long-stemmed rose and took a break from their food to hear four tender voices harmonize over the clink of silverware in the dining room.

The quartet has been together for two years but the men have been singing barbershop most of their lives. Shubert is the director of the Paradise Coastmen and writes much of the parody music the quartet sings.

Before their return to Valentine Central, the quartet sang to dozens of residents of Vi at Bentley Village, a senior community. Kirkpatrick tried to finalize a set list for his group before they performed. He rattled off a song order, but no one was paying attention.

"Did you hear that?" Kirkpatrick asked.

"I wasn't listening," Byron said.

"This isn't easy," Kirkpatrick muttered.

"Just punch me and tell me what I'm doing," Rose said.

Rose drives a tram at Bentley Village and took a rose from the cooler in the SUV's trunk to give to the first resident he recognized. That was Pat Loughran, an Irish lass who sat on a bench outside with Kathy Doherty, a home health aide, when the quartet strolled in.

Rose offered his namesake flower and the group sang "My Wild Irish Rose."

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Loughran said, clapping.

Doherty told the quartet later that Loughran had been having a bad day and the surprise song was "an answer to a prayer."

"Moments like that make it all worthwhile," Shubert said.

To schedule a singing Valentine today, call Bob Slade at 239-352-6366. The delivery features two songs sung in four-part harmony, a rose and a card for $60.

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