One afternoon in New Haven sixty-one years ago (in the fall of 1947), I dropped in for a haircut at the barber shop next to George and Harry’s on Wall Street. In the chair, already being served, was Fenno Heath. We knew each other, slightly.
The result of that chance meeting was an agreement to merge our vocal groups--Fenno’s being the well-established quartet, the Yale Blues, and mine being the remnants of the Elm Street Eight--into a revived and upgraded Elm Street Eight. This was the beginning of a long and wonderful friendship with a fellow who has been my mentor and musical soul-brother ever since.
Though I had the beginnings of a personal vocal arranging style, the next year was an education for me, as I learned many tricks of the trade from the songs Fenno wrote or arranged, including “Boogie Man” and “Over the Rainbow.”
Thanks again to Fenno, we made an alliance with Carol’s group at Smith College, the “Smithereens.” Over the months, we wore deep tracks in Highway 10 between New Haven and Northampton, and sang several joint arrangements, calling ourselves the “Sweet Sixteen.” I especially remember Fenno’s arrangement of “Heat Wave” and how much fun it was to sing.
As we all know, anyone who influences an activity that is above-all in enjoyment is, at the same time, changing all your life for the better. An “above-all” for me is music; Fenno helped me achieve that.
And I was rewarded in another important way: I was asked to be an usher in Fenno’s and Carol’s wedding!
Since those times, I have spent the intervening decades arranging and composing, with various efforts sung by many groups, from the Whiffs to the Kingsingers, the Belgian Radio Choir, and the Pacific Mozart Ensemble, and the Colorado group Wally Collins and I organized, the New Wizard Oil Combination. And there were the medleys of Gershwin and Cole Porter for the Yale Glee Club--the latter, of course, at Fenno’s gracious invitation. I treasure the recordings of those medleys, done under Fenno’s direction.
And all of the above goes back to that chance encounter in the barber shop!
I am sure that there will be remembrances from the members of SLOT. I have never been a full-time member of SLOT, but I am aware of the leadership and training Fenno gave the SLOT guys, and how much that has meant to SLOT in terms of vocal quality and enjoyment, and in their efforts to record all the many Whiffenpoof songs that had not yet been put on record. Whenever you hear SLOT, you will be the beneficiary of Fenno’s leadership.
Shamefully, I have gotten near the end of this essay without having already saluted Fenno for his 37-year leadership of the Yale Glee Club and for his many compositions. (I recall especially his setting of William Blake poems.)
To say that with Fenno’s passing, there is an end of an era--that is an egregious understatement. Fondly remembered and sorely missed. That’s Fenno.
Ed Wolff, Boulder, Colorado, December 8, 2008
F F Heath Jr. 12-30-1926 to 12-05-2008
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Thank you. Your letters bring us joy.
~Carol, Sarah, Lucy, Peggy, and Terry Heath