Behind the Music: The Singing Senators

Ah, simpler times: The Singing Senators, from left, in 1996: Sens. Trent Lott, Larry Craig, John Ashcroft and Jim Jeffords.
Ah, simpler times: The Singing Senators, from left, in 1996: Sens. Trent Lott, Larry Craig, John Ashcroft and Jim Jeffords. (Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post)

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By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Monday, September 10, 2007

They were the most powerful quartet in Washington: Four GOP lawmakers bound by a love of rockin' out, barbershop-style. Now the Singing Senators are little more than a memory. Learn the story of their rise and fall and rebirth when The Reliable Source goes Behind the Music. With your host, Style politics writer Sridhar Pappu.

Part 1: Bright Beginnings.

It began with "Happy Birthday." That's what brought a handful of Republican senators together in harmony at a 1995 party celebrating fellow Sen. Bob Smith.

How exactly the original lineup -- Trent Lott, John Ashcroft, Jim Jeffords and Larry Craig -- was formed remains shrouded in mystery, and little is known about the decision to exclude Orrin Hatch, at the time the Senate's most successful Christian recording artist. But from that moment, the quartet was unstoppable.

They honed their unique sound in Lott's office before officially debuting in October 1995 at a Young Political Leaders of America meeting. Within months, they were booked on "Today." Things never looked brighter for the band originally called the Vocal Majority. Little did they know those high times wouldn't last.

Coming up: Unimagined success, and betrayal, when "Behind the Music" returns.

Part 2: Glory Days

It was 1997, and the Singing Senators had just recorded their debut album, "Let Freedom Sing." A performance with the Oak Ridge Boys brought down the house in Branson, Mo. Their signature song, "Elvira," was hailed as a lyrical masterpiece.

Larry Craig, in December '97: "It changes the whole character of politics. . . . The act of singing expresses your vulnerability and at the same time is a very humanizing act."

Though Craig was lead vocalist, baritone Ashcroft was the group's undisputed leader, having already done a stint as a recording artist. But he seemed to put his ego and individual success aside for the sake of the group.

Their sound was certainly gaining traction as the Clinton era wore down. In 1998 the four performed at a gala for the Republican National Committee. Life was sweet, with partisan rancor by day smoothed over by sweet harmony at night.

But storm clouds were brewing. There was grumbling that Jeffords sided too much with Senate Democrats. In 2000 Ashcroft lost his reelection bid, forcing him to settle for the post of Bush's attorney general. In 2001, Jeffords, the tenor, left the GOP in a move that shifted the balance of power in the nation's capital.

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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