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In Memoriam: Jim Richards

We say goodbye to our friend Jim Richards this week. Here, historian Grady Kerr pays tribute to a man who was a friend and mentor to so many. 

James “Jim” Dana Richards 


June 12, 1925 - February 20, 2016 – age (90)

Our good friend Jim Richards passed away Saturday, February 20th, 10:25pm after a sudden and very brief battle with acute myelogenous leukemia. Released from the hospital to home hospice care earlier in the week, Jim was surrounded by family at the end. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Betty “Ebie”, daughter Mary, sons William and Andrew, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. 

A 63-year member, Jim was one of great icons of the Barbershop Harmony Society and a true gentlemen. Considered the “Complete Barbershopper”, he was an active chorus member, active quartet singer, active woodshedder, contest judge, teacher, administrator, mentor, and much more. Jim attended the recent International Midwinter Convention in Reno, apparently unaware of his illness. Just this past Valentine’s Day he was singing in one of the chapter quartets delivering love songs around town, as was his annual tradition.

Jim joined the Society in 1953 in Evanston, Illinois, grew up in Pekin (home of the future championship chorus led by his former classmate Jim Moses) and was a long-time active member of the Minneapolis Commodores chorus. He served as their President, board member, coach, section leader, and tutor. He was ALWAYS part of each after chapter meeting gathering and a regular for the chapter’s “Friday Lunch Bunch That Meets on Thursdays” where he always taught a tags.

Jim was a 35-year faculty member of Harmony College/Harmony University. He was famous for teaching his trademark class “The Physics of Sound.” It was appropriate that he taught this class as Jim earned a Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1956. His presentation was one of the most popular classes at Harmony College / Harmony University for decades thanks to the WOW factor of the demos. His self-designed class gave singers a unique perspective from a scientific point of view. It allowed us to see, hear, and FEEL harmonics.

He presented several demonstrations using equipment such as a modified Johnson Intonation Trainer Keyboard that would “re-tune a chord”. Thousands of past students will also remember the Spectrogram that was used to SEE their singing voices. He would use a “tone generator” and a full frequency sweep to test our hearing from low to high with the famous Seashore Pitch Test. He just recently retired from teaching his class after 35 continuous years. The class was kept alive by Jim’s protégé Jason Warschauer, who still uses Jim’s original equipment. 

He was a Senior Research Specialist in the Electrical Products Division at 3M for 32 years.

Jim’s impressive barbershop resume includes:


Quartet Man
Jim was an avid quartet man. In total he had 15 appearances on the International Competition stage (three with his quartets and 12 with the Minneapolis Commodores). 

He won the 1990 International Seniors Quartet Championship held in San Francisco singing bass with Grandma's Beaus after placing second the year before.


Jim’s International Contest Quartets

Year Quartet Part Placed
1972 Red Barons baritone 37th
1964 Men of A-Chord baritone 43rd
1963 Men of A-Chord baritone 38th

Men of A-Chord, baritone – Int’l competitor 1963-64
Red Barons, baritone - 1971 Land O'Lakes District champions/1972 Int’l Competitors
Grandma's Beaus, bass - 1990 International Seniors Quartet Champions

Jim served on the International Panel of judges four times (2000/1995/1987/1976). He was certified in the Singing, as well as the Sound Category and as a Chairman of Judges. He was also the 1979- 80 Sound Category Specialist and declared Society Judge Emeritus 2011.


Standup bass player with the Barbershop Harmony Society Dixieland Jazz Band/All Stars performing just recently in Reno.

Land O’ Lakes District Secretary 1972
Land O’ Lakes District President 1973-74
Minneapolis Chapter President 1976
International Board Treasurer
International Board Vice President
46th Barbershop Harmony Society International President -1989
Officer, Association of Senior Quartet Champions


Giving Back
Jim was a proud supporter of The Harmony Foundation as a member of the President’s Council.

He was named 1978 Minneapolis Commodores chapter Barbershopper of the Year

Barbershop Harmony Society Hall of Fame - Class of 2009

Jim did so much for barbershop and lots more behind the scenes that went mostly unnoticed by others. He was a humble man and low-key. He did what needed to be done and did so without the need of recognition or a pat on the back. Jim was a beacon of positive attitude and knew no enemies.

Simply put – Jim Richards was a great man.

[written by Grady Kerr - Barbershop Harmony Historian]