Jerry Holdsworth, aka “Big Jer,” grew up South of Seattle, mostly in Federal Way. Singing and music has always been a part of his life. His grandfather was a professional studio musician in Hollywood playing for Walt Disney and Hanna-Barbera, as well as touring with the West Coast Sax quartet. His studio, outside by their swimming pool, was off limits to any children making noise, but Jer would sneak under his open Dutch door and listen to rehearsals—quietly, of course. If he was discovered, Glen, his grandfather, would just leave him alone, realizing that he was intent on listening. That was about age 4, and he got the chance to make his own recording shortly after on his uncles new-fangled wire recorder, singing the Lord’s Prayer for the family.
Throughout his first 12 years of school, Jer sang in any group that was offered, even suggesting he could sing alto in girl’s glee. That didn’t work out, but some theatre and trios did prove to be great fun, continuing later with Bellevue’s Peccadillo Players doing Gilbert and Sullivan, as well as Seattle Comic Opera playing in Elixir of Love. Right out of high school though, he got the chance to leave Twin Lakes Country club, as a bus-boy and banquet server, (where he got in trouble for whistling and singing in the posh dining room) to become a singing waiter at the Top of the Holiday Inn at Sea-Tac. That was a good gig for about 7-8 years and he got the chance to do a lot of Broadway songs and medleys as well as singing on some TV shows and going out to prisons to sing for the inmates.
Restaurant work led back to college and a degree in Hotel/Restaurant Mgt. as Jer eventually became the Maitre’d at the Top in charge of scheduling 30+ singing servers by voice parts in a busy revolving restaurant. (You think serving a meal to barbershoppers between shows is tough?!) After that, he went back to waiting tables at places like Thirteen Coins and Wild Ginger where it was a slightly saner place to earn a living. Then came bartending and the key to the liquor room. That also didn’t work out so well. So, in order to have a chance at making it to 40 years old, Jer went back to college and became a barber (1980). A few years later he doubled the degree and got his certified Hairstylist license and eventually opened his own shop in Federal Way, deciding to concentrate on mostly men’s hair and barbering. That has proven to be the best way to continue customer service by serving “one head at a time,” one day at a time … for thirty-five years or so.
Just about the time Jer was starting a new life and profession, he went to a Harmony Kings show and noticed that the assistant director, Doug Manning, was a fellow waiter from the Holiday Inn. So, talking to him after the show, somehow, got Jer to start singing barbershop. After a year or so with the HK, someone gave Jer a rehearsal tape of the NWS men’s chorus in Bellevue. And that, as they say, was all she wrote. He auditioned and quickly started singing at District competitions and two Internationals in New Orleans (’92) and Calgary (’93). After a few years of traveling ($$) and having a new business, Jer took a break from NWS and stayed closer to home, first getting involved with his new church in Auburn in the choir, then solos, then helping to lead worship and eventually working with the Christian recovery group and leading a Bible study with his wife, Dode, in their home. Interspersed with that was singing with the Federal Way Chorale (recording The Birth of Christ), Seattle Symphony (recording Christmas albums) Tacoma Symphony Chorale, where the choir was invited (Dode included) by the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra to go on tour with them for their NW Christmas shows. Jer says that was probably the highlight, to be tightly involved with such a professional group. The two of them also sang with NW Repertory Singers in Tacoma, (recording Guys and Dolls excerpts) and other more challenging pieces. And now, Jer gets to sing with his son Billy in another quartet, finally sliding into baritone “where all the important notes are.”
As we know though, it keeps coming back to barbershop where we have the most fun. Quite a few quartets and quite a few shows over the years have not only helped to hone a singer’s ear and voice, but also have provided entertainment for thousands of people all over the country, and allowed one singer to make a positive difference in at least his little corner of the world.