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The Stockton Portsmen: Festive Harmonies

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Do you want to send a unique gift? Surprise a friend? Create an unforgettable celebration? The Stockton Portsmen have you covered.

The Stockton Portsmen are a group of talented singers whose precision harmonies create memorable performances wherever they go. From stage to street, the vocalists are dispatched as a chorus or in quartets to perform at special events, both public and private, including old-fashioned singing telegrams.

That’s right, singing telegrams. The group reports that their singing telegrams are very popular year-round as a festive way to mark an occasion and that people even send the telegrams as a fun and unique hostess-gift.

In December, the Portsmen help celebrate the season by delivering holiday harmony grams in which two holiday songs are presented by a Portsmen barbershop quartet to a sweetheart, office staff, restaurant date or family gathering. Scheduling these performances creates a truly festive and unexpected gift.

Come February, they change it up to offer singing valentines that include two love songs, a fresh rose and a valentine with the sender’s personal message. The singing valentines are always a hit, as are the other quartets and even the full chorus, all of which are available for hire, no matter the occasion.

Historically a men’s pastime, the Stockton Portsmen singing group received its charter in late 1954, originally holding their meetings at the old Stockton Airport. They did not adopt the name Portsmen until later, when they relocated to the Port of Stockton. An early director of the group, Jack Ray, was always accompanied by his wife, Joan, who had mastered the harmonies with him. When he died, the members invited her to sing along with them as she had done with her husband. Not all the men welcomed this change, but it was a change set in motion, nonetheless.
In 2009, two more women asked to participate and by 2010 a third female had joined the group, making the Portsmen one of the only barbershop choruses to welcome women as performers.

However, this change meant the Portsmen could no longer compete in certain traditional competitions for the Harmony Society, which still adhered to its original rules established in 1938. Eventually, as guidelines became more inclusive, they were allowed to participate, albeit still unofficially.

Currently, the group is composed of 15 men and 7 women; it’s the first chorus in California to elect a female president, Nancy Hennefer. Nancy reports that although all-male choruses are still the majority, more and more mixed choruses are forming. “Because of the change within the bylaws of the Barbershop Harmony Society in 2019, women can now become full-fledged members, are allowed to be on the risers for competitions and have been welcomed by most barbershoppers,” she noted.

Through the years, the Stockton Portsmen achieved great acclaim and have now been invited to perform as part of France’s June celebration of the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the liberation of France. During their aptly named On to Normandy trip, the singers will give numerous performances in both Normandy and Paris and will take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Normandy’s
American Cemetery.

To help defray travel costs, the singers are raising funds by putting on a show called Holiday Harmonies, Songs of the Season, on Saturday, December 9, at 2:30 p.m. at Zion Lutheran Church, 800 W. Porter Avenue, Stockton. Tickets are $20 per adult, with children 12 and under free. Additionally, the group will present their annual spring show on April 27, 2024, to help fund this important trip.

Nancy encourages anyone who loves to sing to please join in the fun. “Rehearsals are Tuesday evenings, 6:30 p.m. at Zion Lutheran Church in Stockton. All are welcome to come sing!”

To learn more, visit or call 209-811-SING (7464).