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Toast of Tampa Show Chorus to perform at USF

BY JOYCE MCKENZIE
Special Correspondent

Published:   |   Updated: September 26, 2013 at 04:25 PM

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TAMPA – Its name and home base tell only part of its story.

The Toast of Tampa Show Chorus — a group of female four-part a cappella barbershop-style harmony singers — draws women from nine Florida counties.

The quality of their singing has attracted global attention. In the 2011 Sweet Adelines International competition, the Toast of Tampa finished fifth in the world from a field of more than 600 chapters within the organization.

In a contest that takes place once every two years, the 130-member chorus has earned yet another opportunity to showcase its talent during the November 2013 international competition in Honolulu.

In the meantime Toast of Tampa is planning its 26th annual Standing Room Only performance at the University of South Florida’s Department of Music Concert Hall on Oct. 5. Chorus members, who range in age from 8 to 80, practice every Tuesday night at Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, 304 Druid Hills Road, in Temple Terrace.

Sisters Jamee Billings, 19, of Tampa and Jenifer Billings, 24, who commutes from her home in Gainesville, consider it an honor to carry on a family tradition. Their mother, grandmother and aunt were members and their godmother was once the director.

Jamee believes she was destined join the chorus because her mother went into labor with her in 1993, a day after the group won first place in international competition.

“I’m her gold medal,” she said.

Jenifer sites wanting to spend time with her sister and current chorus director Tony DeRosa as reasons for never wanting to miss a practice.

“Tony is very good and he makes the drive worth it,” Jenifer said.

DeRosa, a Lakeland resident, has been at the chorus’ helm for seven years. He also directs two men’s barbershop harmony choruses and is musical director for Voices of Liberty at Orlando’s Epcot.

In addition, the baritone singer, who is part of the Main Street quartet, has earned three international gold medals in quartet competition.

“We pride ourselves on excellence but we don’t boast about it,” DeRosa said. “The more we expect of ourselves, the more I find them jumping through hoops.”

Ruth Walker, the chorus’ management team leader, noted that DeRosa is one of the reasons she travels from The Villages to the three-hour practice session.

“He is the ultimate artist and we’re like one big sorority,” said Walker, whose elected position is the equivalent of being the group’s president.

Temple Terrace resident Beth Bosserman Curts has participated in the chorus for several years, both singing and dancing.

“It’s impacted my life dramatically,” she said. “Each night we take away so much more than we give.”

Curts credits DeRosa with creating an environment that easily lends itself to wanting to do your best while at the same time having fun.

“He’s brilliant,” she said.

Visit www.toastoftampa.org for more information or call (813) 963-7464.

Joyce McKenzie can be reached at JoyceCMcKenzie@gmail.com.

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