Joyful singing: Eastside women’s chorus combines hard work, friendship and music

  • Written by Kirsten Abel, Features Writer

“I want to see mischief in your eyes,” said Peggy Gram to a room full of about 50 female barbershop singers at Lake Washington United Methodist Church on May 21. Most of the women wore nametags and black t-shirts emblazoned with the name of their group: “AJoy.”

Gram was in town from Arkansas to coach the A Cappella Joy chorus, helping the group to achieve things like better annunciation, tighter timing, stronger octaves and what she called “wetter ‘d’ sounds.”

AJOY CompetitionThe AJoy chorus at a recent regional a cappella competition (Photo courtesy of A Cappella Joy)

A Cappella Joy (“AJoy” for short) is a women’s a cappella chorus with about 60 members who hail from all over the Seattle area, including Woodinville, Sammamish, Kirkland, and even as far away as the San Juan Islands. The chorus belongs to a chapter of Sweet Adelines International, a worldwide women’s organization that includes about 30,000 barbershop singers.

Gram has been a member of Sweet Adelines for 52 years. Although she has spent most of her professional career working in the Arkansas State Government, Gram said she is a teacher at heart.

Ajoy Small GroupNikki Blackmer (center) has been the director of AJoy for over a decade. Her mother, Arlene, also sings in the group (Photo courtesy of A Cappella Joy)“These are the most motivated adult learners you’ll ever find,” she said. “They are so bent on achieving their goals.”

AJoy competed at a spring regional a cappella competition in Spokane in April and will compete again at the international a cappella competition in Las Vegas in October. AJoy’s second place regional finish in 2016 landed them their spot at internationals.

At each contest, the group performs two songs, a slower ballad called “Wee Small Hours” and a catchy up-tune called “Rock This Town.”

Nikki Blackmer has been AJoy’s director since 2003.  She has a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Washington and also sings in the Frenzy Quartet, which recently won the Sweet Adelines International Quartet Championship. Nikki’s mother, Arlene Blackmer, also sings in the chorus.

Sometimes, people think you need a “diva” personality to do something like barbershop singing, Arlene Blackmer said. The dancing and choreography, the glittering outfits and the bouncy showmanship can make it seem so. According to Blackmer, however, that’s not the case at all.

In fact, the group is great even for women who might be afraid to get up on stage and sing.

“It’s like one big family,” Blackmer said. “You’ve got 59 other people that are there supporting you.”

Peggy Gram RehearsalLongtime Sweet Adelines singer and coach Peggy Gram guest directs the AJoy chorus at a rehearsal in Kirkland in May (Photo by Kirsten Abel)Mildred Brown is AJoy’s newest member. Before discovering the group online, she had no idea such a group existed, especially one consisting only of women.

“The minute I walked in, they were so welcoming,” she said. “Then when I heard them sing, it was a done deal.”

Brown recently retired and relocated to the Pacific Northwest from the New York City area. She called the camaraderie of the group “amazing” and said her joining has been a kind of lifesaver. 

“If there was some way to make it more well-known in the world, I think that it would be a really rewarding experience for many women,” she said.
For more information about AJoy, visit Those who are interested are encouraged to attend a practice on Monday evenings at 7 p.m. at Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland

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