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Arts & Life

Colorado Women Of Song Marks 50 Years Of Ageless Performance

Stacy Nick
Colorado Women of Song Artistic Director Barb Johnson strikes a pose during the choir's rehearsal of 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend.'

All of the women in the Colorado Women of Song choir have at least a little silver in their hair.

Some use canes or walkers. When they speak, there's a little timbre in their voice. The kind that comes with getting older. But when they open their mouths to sing, they are ageless.

"They see that audience and they just turn on," said artistic director Barb Johnson.

In 1965, Fort Collins resident Charlotte Roberts gathered about 20 local women in her living room. United by a passion for song and a desire for camaraderie, they created the Women's Choral Group of Fort Collins. Later renamed the Colorado Women of Song, the group is celebrating 50 years of making music with their upcoming Broadway tribute concert, 'Encore! Encore!'

Initially, when Roberts was forced to retire in 2007 due to illness, the members had decided to disband, but Barb Johnson, 69, stepped in to keep the choir, and its weekly Tuesday morning rehearsals, going.

There have been a lot of highs – like performing for former president Gerald Ford in 1985 – and a lot of lows – such as the loss members over the years, including Roberts, who died in 2009.

"We've had some great challenges over the years," Johnson said.

But Johnson loves a challenge. It's actually become a little inside joke among the ladies just how much.

"The music that Barb chooses for us is not always easy," said 74-year-old choir member Judy Albright "So I think that, for me, that is a big part of it. Can I master this music?"

Albright was asking herself that question a lot when the choir performed "Sacramento Sis Joe." Like the railroad banter it features, the song has a lot of different moving parts.

"It was such a complicated piece… and we never thought we'd get it right," she said. "But we managed to pull it off."

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Colorado Women of Song choir members prepare a little song-and-dance number as part of their Broadway tribute, 'Encore! Encore!'

Things don't always go according to plan, though.

"Remember at the Methodist church in Wellington, when the piano fell apart in the middle of 'Amazing Grace,'" Albright recalled, laughing as they talked about some of their favorite past performances. "In the middle of the concert, right in the middle of the song, the music stand fell off the piano and everything fell on the floor. And there was this pause. We waited, and Barb picked it all up and we started right back up where we left off. It was like we planned it."

For Jan Williams, preparing for concerts keeps her feeling young. The 78-year-old retired nurse has been with the choir since 1980.

"It's a lot of work and you have to keep active, and I think that's the best thing for us," Williams said.

It's also provided bonds that have lasted for decades.

"We are such a close group that we just tell each other are problems and share each others' lives," Williams added.

For 81-year-old Carol Echols, joining the choir after her retirement from teaching was a way to reconnect with a love for performance that began in her high school choir.

"Ever since I was in high school, we've been onstage, in choir, in college, and ever after," Echols said. "It's a good feeling to know that you're reaching somebody."

That feeling also keeps them young at heart, the ladies said. Whether they have their hands on their hearts, earnestly performing Man of La Mancha's dramatic "The Impossible Dream," or are parading about the stage dripping with costume jewelry a la Marilyn Monroe for their rendition of "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend."

Despite being around for five decades and performing up to eight concerts a year, director Barb Johnson said she still meets a lot of people who've never even heard of Colorado Women of Song.

"I think that they are a big secret in Fort Collins," Johnson said.

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