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December 2, 2008

Straight No Chaser wishes you an a cappella Christmas

Chicago Sun-Times (IL):

For more than two years, Dan Ponce has been a reporter for the WLS-Channel 7 news team, doing countless interviews with men and women in the street and the sort of "Well, Ron, the snow is really coming down here on the Edens" live stand-ups so beloved of newscasts.

Now Ponce is the one answering the questions as the founder and driving force behind the 10-piece a cappella group Straight No Chaser. A decade after breaking up because they were convinced vocal music would never make them stars, the group has released its debut album, "Holiday Spirits" (Atlantic Records), and it has a shot to become one of the most unlikely industry success stories since "American Idol" reject Sanjaya Malakar.

"The tables have turned on me for sure," Ponce says, laughing. "It's been interesting not asking the questions for once, and kind of refreshing at the same time. The thing is, we were not looking for this, but we had no choice but to take advantage of it. I'd be an idiot not to try it. I work for the top television station in the city, so I kind of have the best of both worlds going on, with a great television job and now a promising music opportunity."

Part of Chicago's Ponce TV dynasty -- his father, Phil, is the host of "Chicago Tonight" on WTTW-Channel 11, and his brother Anthony is a reporter for WMAQ-Channel 5 -- Dan spent his formative years dreaming of a career in music, not journalism. He studied voice, piano and violin as a kid, and he first became interested in a cappella music when his dad gave him a cassette of the Canadian group the Nylons.

"I really liked the doo-wop kind of stuff, and though I play piano and violin, singing has always been my best instrument, so I was always drawn to singing in ensembles and doing harmonies," Ponce says. In high school, he formed a group called New Trier A Cappella, "just getting my buddies together."

Then came college and Straight No Chaser, which won a devoted following at Indiana University, recorded a few indie albums and branched out far enough to perform at Carnegie Hall and sing the national anthem at a Cubs game before everyone graduated and the group split up.

None of the singers had expected to take the group to the top; delightfully old-fashioned, it was modeled on the long-standing tradition of Ivy League vocal groups, mixing flawless, intricate harmonies and a little comedic shtick and wearing tuxedos onstage when it performed.

In fact, that's exactly what you'll find in a clip that features the group performing "The 12 Days of Christmas" from December 1998, and including snippets of "I Have a Little Dreidel" and "Africa" by Toto along with the lords a-leaping, the partridges and the pear trees. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at December 2, 2008 10:07 PM


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