by Shane Adams
The North Door Singers, originally called the New Folk Singers, began as a group of performing students who organized in the fall of 1965. The group’s name was a reference to the original grand entrance of the Higdon Administration Building, and the original members were Ray Adams ’69, Mel Clark ’67, Larry Wheeler ’68, Dave Rock ’67, Price Berryman ’68, Vere Shute ’69, John Hatton ’68, Lois Freeman ’69 Wheeler and Elayne Slocum ’67 Waggoner. Faculty member Dennis Steele was the group’s arranger and conductor, and Larry Wheeler served as songwriter.
By the summer of 1968, the North Door Singers had become a full-time operation. That year, they appeared on Colgate Palmolive’s Your All-American College Show, a televised talent show for college students, and they won the semifinals.
United Services Organization (USO) Executive Director Jimmy Sheldon saw the North Door Singers’ Your All-American College Show performance and was so impressed, he went to see them in person at a nightclub in Minnesota. After that performance, he invited them on the spot to take the USO tour the following summer. So, during the summer of 1969, the singers went on a 55-day overseas USO tour involving more than 70 performances in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Okinawa and Guam.
Ray Adams traveled with the group on the USO tour. He recounted one story of their visit to the Philippines.
“We were doing a show at a base up in the mountains and, after the show, we were dropped off at the local naval air station and told our transportation to Clark Air Force Base (AFB) in Manila would arrive soon. A helicopter landed shortly thereafter, and the pilots looked at us and said, ‘Are you the USO tour?’ We said yes and asked if they were our transportation to Clark AFB. They said yes, and we lugged our equipment out to the helicopter for the trip to Clark.”
Adams continued, “They sat us down next to an active runway at Clark and said someone would come to pick us up. Turned out, they just wanted to take a joyride with the girls in our group and were not our transportation to Clark AFB. In a few moments, we had flashing lights all around us because we were right next to an active runway. When we told the special services officer what had happened, he laughed and said, ‘Make sure you make them show their orders next time.’”
The other members of the North Door Singers to travel on the USO tour were Kay Brockway ’71, Sheri Huffman ’70, Linda Riley ’69, R.B. Kramer ’70, Randy Fields, Eric DeFrain ’70 and Dennis Steele.
These days, music is still very much a part of Adams’ life. In fact, he and some of the early members of other folk groups from Graceland still gather weekly to rehearse and play together under the guise “The Kaopektates.”
Larry Wheeler creates arrangements for Adams and Hilltop Singers alumnus Dean Landsberg ’68 as well as Joe Racine ’66, who was instrumental (pun intended) to connecting Adams to the folk scene in the late 1960s at Graceland.
“After seeing the Hilltop Singers during my first week on campus, I knew I wanted to sing folk music. I knew Joe from church camp in St. Louis, and he told me that a bunch of students met in the basement of Briggs Hall to sing. That was the beginning of the New Folk Singers and, ultimately, North Door.”
Today, Adams is the president and group CFO of ALG Transportation and lives in Leawood, Kansas, with his Graceland sweetheart and wife, Sidna Beck ’70 Adams. They are both involved in their church and spend as much time as possible with their family. His son, Shane ’99, currently serves as the director of marketing and communications at Graceland.