Tenor: Allen Hatton
Lead: Ken Hatton
Bass: Rick Staab
Bari: Dan Burgess
As teenagers, Allen Hatton, Ken Hatton, Dan Burgess and Rick Stabb began singing together as The Bluegrass Student Union quartet in December of 1973, They were active members of the International Champion Chorus, The Louisville Thoroughbreds. Their first year together resulted in a first place finish in the fall Cardinal District (Kentucky and Indiana) contest.
During this time, they also built a repertoire of arrangements “borrowed” from famous quartets of the time, such as the Citations, the Suntones, the Club House 4, et al. Singing with the perennial champion Thoroughbreds provided the fledging quartet plenty of encouragement, as well as opportunities to perform on “the big stage.”
In 1975, the “boys” first met their coach Don Clause, who recognized what he called “simpatico” within the group. Don introduced BSU to then unknown arranger and future International President of the Barbershop Harmony Society Ed Waesche, who provided the ensemble’s first original arrangements. BSU also enjoyed the benefit of Don’s technical knowledge and fine interpretive skills, which resulted in the quartet’s quick rise to the top of International Competition. The quartet finished fourth in 1976, sixth in 1977, and won it all in 1978 with its four singers ranging in age from 22 to 24.
After winning, the Bluegrass searched for a new mission and rediscovered the true joy of entertaining through concerts and recordings. The quartet subsequently became known as one of a very few champion quartets who did its best work after winning the gold. They innovated with adaptations of “Swing Era” music to the barbershop style, not only by Ed Waesche, but also by Walter Latzko, who had achieved fame through his arrangements for the famous professional quartets, the Buffalo Bills and The Chordettes. By focusing on all aspects of their performance, BSU’s “show package” became one of the most popular in the Society’s history. Also, with the help of their expert recording engineer, Bobby Ernspiker, BSU simply outperformed everybody else where quartet recordings are concerned.
For twenty years, even while spending so much time in the studio, the quartet continued to travel and perform, covering hundreds of thousands of miles in 46 states and several foreign countries and entertaining millions of quartet fans, including President Ronald Reagan at the White House. In 1992, the group decided to take a sabbatical, to focus on careers and families. After being contacted by members of the “Harmonet”, an internet barbershop harmony discussion group, the quartet was persuaded to re-release its recordings in a complete works 3-CD set, with extensive liner notes.
As a result, there was a strong resurgence of interest in live performances by the Bluegrass, and so they have been lured back to the boards. They recently retired again and released a DVD of performances and remain close friends – the same original foursome after over 25 years of “good close harmony”.