Straight No Chaser is a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. It is actually two entities, separate but related. The group began as an undergraduate ensemble — what used to be known as a “glee club” — founded in 1996 at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Calling themselves after a 1967 Thelonious Monk album of the same name, the original group included 10 students: Dan Ponce (founder), Randy Stine, Charlie Mechling, Steve Morgan, Jerome Collins, Dave Roberts, Walter Chase, Mike Itkoff, Patrick Hachey and Kevin Caroll. They sang at dance marathons, ball games and other public events, starting near their home campus and traveling farther and farther afield as their fame spread.
The original group lasted from 1996 until 1999, when several members graduated and had to be replaced. Since then, more than 60 students have sung in Straight No Chaser.
In 1998, when the original members were still in place, they performed a comic arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which was captured rather professionally on video. In April 2006, Stine posted the video of “The 12 Days” to YouTube. The public response was astonishing. To date, upwards of 13 million people have watched the video — one of whom was Craig Kallman, CEO of Atlantic Records, who called Stine and asked him to reunite the group to make an album.
In July 2008, eight of the founding members, along with two who had sung in later incarnations of the group at the university, got together in Bloomington and recorded a Christmas album called Holiday Spirits. After several appearances by Straight No Chaser on television, Holiday Spirits became the No. 1 selling album on both the iTunes and Amazon.com charts.
After a second Christmas album, Christmas Cheers, a PBS Christmas special, and their first first non-Christmas album, With a Twist — all of which have done very well — Straight No Chaser shows no sign of fading.
“When I first auditioned and joined (Straight No Chaser) in college,” Ryan Ahlwardt says, “I recall Jerome [Collins] telling me, ‘You have no idea what you’re now a part of.’”
Tickets to Straight No Chaser are $44.50 and $53. Click here to order online, call 805.899.2222 or visit the Granada box office at 1214 State St.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.