There are parallel realities in Straight No Chaser, the a cappella men’s singing group named simultaneously for Thelonious Monk’s brilliant 1967 album of the same name and the popular bartender command. Fifteen years ago, Indiana University student Don Ponce started a men’s chorus with nine fellow students, dubbing the aggregation Straight No Chaser. In short order, SNC was making local and regional appearances (Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park, the Navy Pier, opening for Lou Rawls) and touring nationally. SNC’s original 10 members remained together until their 1999 graduation, when 10 new student members were selected. Since then, IU’s student version of SNC has featured more than 60 members.
Five years ago, a commercial version of Straight No Chaser emerged with the YouTube posting of the original group’s 1998 performance of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” SNC’s take was based on a humorous 1967 arrangement by the Williston Caterwaulers, but SNC incorporated fresh ideas, adding a snippet of “The Dreidel Song” and adapting verses to the melody of Toto’s “Africa.” Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman offered the group a recording contract, resulting in 2008’s Holiday Spirits, which topped online sales charts.
In 2009, SNC filmed a concert in New York for PBS, then released their Six Pack EP, followed by their second holiday album, Christmas Cheer
. The Christmas albums and the concert DVD became last year’s All I Want for Christmas
box set. Last year also marked the release of SNC’s first non-Christmas album, With a Twist
, and a 75-city North America/UK tour, while 2011 saw the group’s second residency at Harrah’s in Atlantic City and their performance in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Like the original IU group, the personnel in Straight No Chaser’s touring arm is in constant flux, as old members opt out and student graduates are recruited. The level of talent in Straight No Chaser remains insanely high, as does the amount of fun to be experienced at any given SNC show.