History of the Mid-West Quartet Association (Part One)
1989 until 1996
Written by Dan Whitman, 1995; edited and updated by Louie Brown
After I was asked to write the history of the MWQA, I didn’t really know where to begin because in many cases the evolution of the MWQA has been a case of just get out of the way and let the Lord do his work. I will try in this history to tell you some of the fun and amazing things that have happened over the first five years.
Looking through some old papers, I came across a letter from a man who has become a dear friend, Bill Lundsten. It was dated November 20, 1990. The letter said, “I enjoyed talking with you last night. It’s great when we can share ideas and dreams. I feel the idea for a state convention can become a reality, and after that, who knows how big or how far it could develop. Let’s go for it!” So the MWQA was born, and it has been growing ever since.
But, I think maybe the beginning goes back even farther than that. A group called the Sounds of Praise Quartet organized a quartet jubilee in the Fall of 1989. They invited a well-established quartet from northern Minnesota named the Golden Street Quartet, and a young new group called the Spokesmen Quartet, to take part in their event. A bond was formed that continues even today between different members of these two groups. We left that first gathering with the desire to invite other groups together for one big singing jubilee!!
Well, as you may guess, I was member of the Spokesmen Quartet back in 1989, and the big lanky gentleman named Bill Lundsten is the manager and founder of the Golden Street Quartet. We were the two people in that original conversation, and a great deal of thanks is due Bill for getting this organization off the ground.
Bill’s many years in southern gospel music, and the contacts he had, is what made it possible for us to pull off that first MWQA Convention. Bill put us in touch with Loren Bartelt and Chad Jones. Chad helped us make contact with Bev White, quartets, and groups like the Chancellors, Steadfast, Music City Boys, Living Water, Praise Unlimited, First Light, Travelers, Spiritual Vibrations, Foretold, and the Gary Schimpp Family.
Bill and I, representing Golden Street Quartet and Spokesmen Quartet, came together for an informal meeting with people from all the groups mentioned above. We found a great deal of interest in putting together a singing convention, so the plans for our first Convention started! At first, all the groups and interested people came together once a month in Minneapolis to work on the plans. We agonized a great deal over what size auditorium would be needed and how we would pay for it! Out of this desperation came the association dues still in use today.
After much checking and rechecking, the Edina Community Center was chosen for our first Convention. This auditorium boasted 1000 seats. Several of us were very worried about how we were going to pay the rent and insurance from an offering, especially if the crowd was small. The charter groups made the Convention a possibility through loans from many groups and other individuals. The contracts were signed, equipment borrowed, and we were set for the first Convention. How the people would be paid back, we didn’t know.
Everything went well for the next several months — too well!! We had borrowed money to advertise, and many posters were distributed through the groups and shared mailing lists. We decided to give free admission tickets to anyone requesting them. We had over 2000 requests for those 1000 seats and had to tell 1000 people, “Sorry, we don’t have room for you.” What a feeling going into our first Convention!
That last week, the problems started with the caterer canceling out four days before the Convention. We had 1000 people coming in four days and no one to provide food! Thanks to Loren Bartelt, Deli Express came to the rescue, and food was there in abundance.
The next problem was those crazy boys of summer, The Minnesota Twins. Wouldn’t you know, the Twins would make it to the World Series in 1990. The World Series stretched out to a sixth game, and, wouldn’t you know, the sixth game would be played at the HHH Metrodome, the same night, the same time, as the first MWQA Convention!! The Metrodome is only ten miles away, and we knew there were 65,000 fans there. We thought most other people would be watching or listening to the game, so the organizers felt very nervous, but we trusted the Lord, and not only was the HHH Metrodome full, but the Edina Community Center was too!
There was even a little overlap going on at one point. It seems the Twins were behind in the series three games to two. The sixth game was now tied at the end of the ninth inning. One more run could mean the end of the season for the Twins. As the eleventh inning came, word of the dire straights circulated throughout the Convention and a number of transistor radios with ear pieces popped out in the crowd. The Travelers Quartet was on stage performing a serious and challenging part in their program and it happened. Kirby Puckett came to the plate and hit a home run!! A cheer was heard and joy was felt even at the Edina Community Center as the Twins won the game.
The next important change was a much larger auditorium. Bloomington Assembly of God was chosen. This move was well received by everyone. The crowd at our next Convention was estimated at 1700 people. Things were going well!! To continually improve and become more professional, we decided to invite a full time traveling group to perform at the Convention. The Southmen, from Alabama, were hired to headline the 1992 Convention. Although the Southmen did a fine job, the overall consensus of fans and the groups was that the quality of talent in the upper Midwest was good, and the group from Alabama didn’t have anything on us, so we should save as much time as possible for our association groups to grow in number at the Convention.
Another change took place that year — a change in how the MWQA was managed. We heard from the groups they didn’t have time to come to meetings each month, and they were very pleased with how the organization was growing and being managed. A change to an organization run by an elected, governing board was proposed and voted in. The board has been very stable with four of the original five members still on the executive board in 1995.
A lot of thought went into the 1994 decision to sell reserved, permanent seating. We felt this was a way better to control the ever-growing number of people wanting to attend the Convention. This proved correct with a sell-out one month before the Convention. We also instituted a new sound equipment and personnel package, with Jeff Label doing the stage mix and Mark Aspinal from Gaither Studios doing the house mix. This has worked well and continues as our standard ml 995.
Perhaps the biggest change of all was in 1996 when we changed to a two-day Convention. This allowed many more opportunities for performers, seminars, and other events. We wanted to create a true convention spirit where people can come, spend the weekend, learn something new, be entertained, and experience the true reason we love Southern Gospel Music.