Vol. 33, No. 6
Bar News Highlight
by JoAnn Viola Salazar
Practicing in Harmony
John Madden III arrived in Colorado in 1959 as a cheerleader for the University of Nebraska. It was the annual rival match against the University of Colorado ("CU")–"Boulder. CU won the game and the state won John’s heart. He knew this was where he wanted to live. He transferred to CU to complete his undergraduate work, and stayed at CU for law school, as well.
While at school in Boulder, John joined an informal group of folk singers, all of whom were CU students: Mike Brovsky, Brooks Hatch, Bryan Sennett, Jon Arbenz, and Bob Young. Their first gig was a Delta Tau Delta fraternity event. That performance led to stints on local radio and television, conventions at the Denver Hilton Hotel, and performances at the Exodus nightclub with the likes of blues singer Walt Connelly and folk singer Judy Collins. When one of the members left the group, they added their first female member: Lynne Weintraub.
|The Serendipity Singers
in 1964. John Madden
is seated at left.
Folk music was big in the Sixties. It was big enough to encourage the group to head to New York City, where they traded performing fees for recording time in a studio. The result was 150 copies of an eight-song demo long-playing record, which they sent, with publicity photos, to every talent agency and management company in the city. It paid off when they signed with the William Morris Agency in the summer of 1963. At that time, the group called themselves the "Newport Singers," but changed their name to the "Serendipity Singers" when they learned another group had already used the former name. They also added two new members: Diane Decker and Tommy Tiemann. In November 1963, the Serendipity Singers recorded its first album, which was then released in January 1964.
The group hit the ground running when they arrived in New York, playing at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village with Peter, Paul, and Mary. They also opened for stand-up comedian Woody Allen, and appeared on a new television show called Hootenanny. In the next two years, they would appear on more than thirty network shows, including the Ed Sullivan Show, the Dean Martin Show, Shindig, Hullabaloo, the Tonight and Today Shows. For two years after the album was released, they toured constantly, performing throughout the United States and in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
While touring, they rehearsed during the day and performed at night. John acted as the musical director and arranger for the Serendipity Singers. The group worked hard to develop more intricate musical arrangements, moving from the simple four-part harmonies that are clearly identified in folk music, to blending incredibly complex harmonies and arrangements.
|John Madden III|
Life as a folk singer was rigorous and riveting. John remembers touring for an entire year with only three days off. One of those days was November 23, 1963, the day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Memories of those folk singing days and the people he met while performing bring a smile to John Madden’s face and a sparkle to his eyes. The Serendipity Singers rubbed elbows with Cass Elliott, who was singing with The Mugwumps at the time, as well as performers Jose Feliciano and Richard Pryor. One night before a show at the Bitter End, John and Bryan Sennett ventured across the street to another club to see the last performance of the legendary Lenny Bruce.
The Serendipity Singers were nominated for a Grammy Award in 1964. They did not win the award, but they won the hearts of many folk music fans.
John left the Serendipity Singers in 1966 to return to law school. His original intention was to practice entertainment law. However, that would have required his relocating to Los Angeles; John did not want to leave Colorado. Instead, he dove into his legal career, which included practicing at the Denver law firms of Davis Graham & Stubbs and Brownstein Hyatt, as well as at the Federal Trade Commission. Today, he is in private practice with his son, John Madden IV, specializing in civil litigation that includes securities, business, and commercial building law.
The Serendipity Singers reunited in recent years to perform at various venues, including the Jerry Ford Invitational Golf Tournament in Vail, and as opening act for the Platters in 1999 in Branson, Missouri. Last August, they performed in the PBS-sponsored special "This Land is Our Land." John flew into Pittsburgh for a day-and-a-half of rehearsals, flew back to Colorado for an oral argument before the Court of Appeals, and returned to Pittsburgh for the performance.
John Madden’s life shows a wealth of experience. His love for performing has certainly contributed to his feeling of ease in the courtroom. John learned to tap dance in the Army; he is fond of saying that is why he likes litigation so much!
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