Larry Fillingham sang second tenor in the television program Faith for Today Quartet for five years, from 1961 to 1966. Like so many other singers in the FFT quartets, Fillingham had sung with some of the members before they worked together at FFT.
Although born in Davenport, Iowa, he spent most of his childhood near Moline, Illinois, where his family lived with his maternal grandmother on a farm of 80 acres. On that property was a one-room structure built by his grandfather that had housed the first Seventh-day Adventist church school in the state. It is where Larry, along with his cousins, attended school until he graduated from eighth grade. It was a bucolic setting in which to live and go to school, an experience he would later warmly recall.
His mother was very musical and, from his earliest years, Larry and his cousins were involved in music activities. Singing at the one-room school was a major activity, from the beginning to the end of the school day:
Even though our teacher, who was a cousin, was not musical, she was very much into music. We started each day with worship and then songs. We had a songbook that included such songs as When Johnny comes Marching Home, Clementine, and other music like that. We students sang as a choir and played instruments in our little church. Beginning then and in later years I played a number of instruments, including the cornet, drums, tuba, baritone horn, and others. We also sang in mixed quartets, duets, and trios in church.
His father was talented in mechanical matters and in the process of running the farm gave his son a strong work ethic and practical skills. Fillingham remembers him as an inspiring person in his life and a respected figure in the community.
My Dad was a self-made engineer. He had worked at the J. I. Case Company, where they made farm implements. During the years right after I was born, however, they were making crankshafts for aircraft motors and other war-related things. He was an innovator and was one of the first farmers where we lived to use tractors, high tech equipment, and fertilizer. I remember the next-door farmer leaning on the fence and watching my father with obvious skepticism. Eventually what my father was doing caught on when his crop yields doubled and then tripled. He became highly respected, and the rest of the community closely watched how he farmed.
Fillingham was very active in music in his years at Broadview Academy, which at that time was located near La Grange, Illinois. Throughout his academy years he sang in a gospel quartet and participated in the school choral groups. His music teacher, Brad Braley, encouraged him and helped him realize that he had a significant voice and was capable of singing something besides just hymns and gospel music.
At the end of three years at BA, he had enough credits to gain entrance without a high school diploma into Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. His girlfriend all throughout academy, Jeanne McNeil, was also accepted at UC and they attended from 1956 until 1958. Although Fillingham enrolled in a number of math and science classes because his father wanted him to become an engineer, he did not enjoy the classes and spent considerable time in music activities.
He sang in the choir under J. Wesley Rhodes and was chosen as one of the first members to be in the Unionaires, a new select choral group started by Rhodes. He was also a member of The Charioteers, a male quartet that included two African Americans, an unusual ensemble given the racial attitudes at that time. They sang mostly spirituals from the Southern black gospel tradition and, during the three semesters Fillingham was at UC, The Charioteers was a very popular group on campus.
After he left UC, he and Jeanne married, worked in Iowa, saved some money, and then enrolled at Emmanuel Missionary College, which became Andrews University while they were there. While at AU, he pursued a music education degree and sang in the choir under Minnie Iverson Wood and in a quartet that included Don Siebenlist and Jim Ripley. He won the grand prize in the 1959 International Amateur Hour program at AU.
In the summer of 1961, following graduation, Fillingham had already made plans to accept a teaching position, but was invited by the Faith for Today quartet to come and audition for an upcoming opening in the group while they were singing at the Michigan camp meeting in Lansing. Shortly after he returned to campus, he was invited to join.
He enjoyed working in the FFT quartet and the camaraderie that developed within the group. During his time there, the quartet went from being allowed to work as only part-time singers to being able to work full-time in perfecting their ensemble.
When the quartet was disbanded in 1966, Fillingham assisted in the vocal program at Columbia Union College by conducting the male and ladies glee clubs and teaching a class in Ministry of Music and Survey of Western Art. He also sang tenor at Capitol Hill Methodist Church in a professional quartet with Paul Hill, then CUC choir director, and voice teacher, Dianna Sooy, soprano, and Glenda McGinnis, contralto. During the year he was at CUC he completed a master's degree in vocal performance at Catholic University, studying voice with Catherine Hansel.
In 1967, Jeanne was hired to teach at Greater New York Academy and Larry was called to manage Greater New York Center. A year later, they separated in the fall and he found work in the music production and recording studios using editing skills he had learned from Stan Schleenbaker and Herbert Hohensee while working at the Faith for Today telecast.
I got a job with Bob Israel, who owned a company named Score Productions. They scored all the game shows for Goodson and Toddman. I worked as music supervisor for shows such as What's My Line, The Generation Gap, and others. I edited all of the music, preparing it mostly from music in libraries that had been recorded in Europe.
After a year, I was hired away by Bob Velasco, who owned a company named Museffects, a music and effects house. I learned how to do film editing on a Movieola. Among others, we worked on a show called the Big Picture, a war movie anthology edited from all of the old Movietone newsreels.
While there, I successfully auditioned for the New York Choral Pool, a group conducted by Abraham Kapman. That experience established me in New York as a classical singer and led to many opportunities to sing in significant and famous New York venues in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was able to quit my job at Museffects and just sing. I studied classical singing with Emil Renan, a noted teacher who got me auditions with significant groups such as the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. I sang in various NY choral organizations at most New York Philharmonic concerts that required choral groups. I was privileged to sing under conductors such as Bernstein, Boulez, Shaw, and other great conductors of that era.
Following that I went to work for Guidance Associates, a subsidiary of book publisher Harcourt, Brace, Javonovich, where I was a producer, recording engineer, and tape editor. While there I also freelanced and eventually was able to establish my own studio. I specialized in educational materials and even kept my previous employer, Guidance Associates, as one of my clients. In my home studio, I had the opportunity to work with a number of famous actors and personalities from a broad spectrum of performing arts as well as scientists, writers, and producers.
Fillingham left New York in 1985 to move to Vermont to work with a former colleague from Guidance Associates as customer service manager in a business venture. In 1988, when that business was sold, he established and operated an antique shop for over a year.
At that time, his son, Scott, was working in Los Angeles at Synapse Technology on a large seven million-dollar multi-media project for IBM. To facilitate this ground-breaking CD ROM, laser disc, hard drive extravaganza, Scott invited his father to join them to build and run an audio studio. Although he was initially hired on a seven-week contract, he continued with them for over three years. While there, Fillingham found he had a talent for writing, a gratifying confirmation of a gift he had developed through his years as a copy editor on thousands of recording scripts.
After the project closed down, he established another private studio where he dealt with clients he had become acquainted with while working at Synapse. In 2000, he relocated to Seattle to again work with his son on another project. That assignment continued until 2002, when the company had to downsize due to the fallout after the 9/11 attack in NY. For the next four years, Fillingham remodeled homes in the Seattle area, using carpentry skills he had learned as a child and further developed in subsequent years. Today, he works as a service representative for Verizon, drawing on his life experiences as he deals with people from various backgrounds.
As a classically trained musician who grew up surrounded by the gospel music tradition and then later experienced many types of music, Fillingham is eclectic in his musical choices, finding pleasure in listening to classical masterpieces, spirituals, jazz, gospel, bluegrass, and more recent musical styles.
Throughout his life he has welcomed the challenges that have occurred in our culture and the twists and turns of his own life and tried to deal with them in an effective and beneficial way. He has found that this approach has provided an interesting and rewarding life, one where each experience has provided increased enlightenment and insight about the meaning of life and what is really important.
Fillingham is grateful for the many experiences he has had and values the friends who have been loyal and helpful through the years. In 2000, he was contacted about participating, along with the King's Heralds quartet from the Los Angeles radio broadcast, The Voice of Prophecy, in a series of reunion concerts to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Faith for Today telecast. Although hesitant at first, Fillingham convinced another hesitant quartet member to join with him in being a part of these events.
When we got together for the first time and during all that happened after that in the next year and a half and ten concerts given across the United States, we were treated with respect and as honored guests. It was a wonderful experience to get reacquainted with fellow quartet members, give performances to large and grateful audiences, and visit with many friends from the past who would come forward after the concerts. It was truly an experience of a lifetime working with those at Faith for Today.
Source: Interview, 25 October 2007; follow-up emails.