1951 Champion Schmitt Brothers quartet take the stage
A family quartet which became world famous after winning SPEBSQSA’s 1951 International Quartet championship will be commemorated with a beautiful new public performance space in the civic center of their beloved hometown.
P.T. Rivers, a great niece of the quartet and author of a book on their journey, tells the full story of their championship, and of the new stage to be dedicated this summer.
The triumphant return home
It was the summer of 1951. Phone lines lit up across the town of Two Rivers, buzzing with the news. Can you believe it? The Schmitt Brothers won the contest in Toledo! And on the first try!
Civic leaders hurried to plan a welcome celebration. The newspaper invited everyone to greet the train when the Schmitts returned. The railway agent for the Chicago & North Western 400 broke protocol and urgently telegrammed the depots in Sheboygan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, urging them to pause at those stops for a demonstration.
The first “demonstration” was the entire 58-member Sheboygan Barbershop Chorus who serenaded the shocked and surprised Schmitt Brothers and their wives. By the time the train rolled into the next stop in Manitowoc, more than 2,000 people jammed the platform, excited to welcome their hometown heroes.
As the band struck up a fanfare, the bewildered brothers were greeted by flashing camera bulbs and cheers. In short order, they were whisked away in a convertible with their mother, leading a cavalcade of several hundred cars cruising to Two Rivers where it seemed the rest of the small town was waiting.
Flash forward 70 years: The Schmitt Brothers Stage
In the very park where the brothers were welcomed home by thousands of new fans in 1951, the city of Two Rivers will honor them by dedicating the Schmitt Brothers Stage.
When a new book about the Schmitt Brothers was published in 2020, the author wondered why there was no memorial dedicated to the quartet that helped put Two Rivers on the map. Former Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt, who is also a son of the quartet’s lead singer, thought it was a good point.
He approached Two Rivers City Manager Greg Buckley with the idea, and he had a great solution. The city was planning a $1.6 million renovation of Central Park in the heart of downtown, complete with a new stage. What better way to honor the Schmitt Brothers than by naming the stage after them?
Along with his four brothers, Jim approached the extended Schmitt family with a proposal to finance the $100,000 price tag for the naming rights. For most families, it would have been impossible. But the Schmitt family is huge—the Schmitt Brothers’ parents had 17 children and more than 100 grandchildren. They met the goal, and with help from some barbershop friends, presented a check for more than $122,000 to the city.
The stage is quickly taking shape. The foundation is set. The iron structure stands tall. Wooden slats cover the curved roof. Decorative metal panels fabricated by local high school students will form the stage backdrop. And artists are preparing two bronze plaques that will tell the story of the quartet and the Schmitt family.
Stage to be christened with a 3-hour barbershop show on July 15
At noon on July 15, the Schmitt Brothers Stage will be formally dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by officials and family members followed by a three-hour barbershop show featuring more than a dozen quartets and choruses, including many district champions and the 1975 International Champion Happiness Emporium Quartet, which performed many times with the Schmitt Brothers and are the only other international champions in the Land O’ Lakes District.
During the event, civic organizations will sponsor snack stands and food trucks. A local brewery will offer a special edition brew for the occasion. And, of course, the historical society will serve ice cream sundaes to honor the sweet dairy treat invented there. The show will be followed by an afterglow beginning at 7 p.m. at the J. E. Hamilton Community House, across the street from the park.
We hope barbershop harmony lovers from near and far will join the festivities and show your appreciation for this amazing quartet!
About the Schmitt Brothers
Jim, Joe, Paul and Fran Schmitt learned to sing in the church choir. SPEBSQSA President O.H. “King” Cole discovered the quartet by chance when their melodies caught his ear one Christmas at the Hotel Manitowoc. He invited the Schmitts to join the Manitowoc barbershop chapter, where they met future coaches Milt Detjen and Johnny Means. Within 18 months, they mastered the challenging techniques of the uniquely American a cappella style, winning every contest on the road to the championship.
The Schmitt Brothers sang together for 35 years, spreading harmony from Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden and all the major stages in the country as well as the Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey and Lawrence Welk shows. Performances were routinely booked years in advance. They “traveled along singing a song,” logging more than 2 million miles and performing in 3,000 programs. The Schmitt Brothers were ambassadors of barbershopping and their hometown of Two Rivers wherever they went.
About the Author
P.T. Rivers, a great niece of the quartet, is the author of “The Schmitt Brothers,” the behind-the-scenes story of the legendary champion quartet. The 223-page book is based on over 15 years of research and more than 30 interviews, and includes 67 photos. It tells the heart-warming story of the quartet’s meteoric rise to fame, the faith and family that molded them, and the hometown they put on the map.
Funny and interesting, sad and sweet, the book captures the excitement of the times and the quartet’s small town persona. Paperbacks and eBooks are available at bookstores in Manitowoc and Two Rivers as well as amazon.com.