What is "Barbershop"
Barbershop singing is a
"melting pot" product of African-American musical devices, the
European hymn-singing culture, and the American tradition of
recreational music that was sung by the folks of Middle-America such as
those depicted in Norman Rockwell's famous paintings.
style of music, as we know it, is first associated with quartets as far
back as the 1870s and it had an improvisational nature of the
Quartets "cracking a
chord" were commonplace at places like Joe Sarpy's Cut Rate Shaving
Parlor in St. Louis, and in Jacksonville, Florida, where it was said
"every barbershop seemed to have its own quartet."
The first written use of the
word "barbershop" when referring to harmonizing came in 1910,
with the publication of a song called "Play That Barbershop
The songwriters of the Tin
Pan Alley era wrote songs that appealed to the tastes of the
recreational musician, songs that were easily singable.
They wrote songs about heartfelt, commonplace themes and images.
Music published in that era often included vocal arrangements for
the male quartet.
The phonograph made it
possible for many folks to hear the new songs coming from Tin Pan Alley.
The arrival of radio and the
Jazz era prompted a shift in American popular music to songs that were
more sophisticated melodies for the professional singers of radio and
These songs did not adapt as
well to impromptu harmonization, because they placed a greater emphasis
on jazz rhythms and melodies that were better suited to dancing than to
But radio quartets kept close
harmony singing popular and the casual singers were ready for the
revival of barbershop harmony that took place in 1938, in Tulsa,
Oklahoma, when two men who, bemoaned the decline of the all-American
institution of the barbershop quartet, decided to stem that decline.
They started the
"Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Barber Shop
Quartet Singing in America." Twenty-six men attended that
first musical gathering, and about 150 men attended the third meeting.
Word of the new singing
organization soon hit the newspapers, which spread it coast-to-coast,
and soon groups were meeting throughout North America to sing barbershop
Word of the new singing organization soon hit the newspapers, which spread it coast-to-coast, and soon groups were meeting throughout North America to sing barbershop harmony.
The Barbershop Harmony Society was born.
Today, with almost 30,000
members in the U.S. and Canada, the Barbershop
Harmony Society is the world's largest all-male singing
organization. It is
comprised of more than 800 choruses and 1800 quartets throughout the
U.S. and Canada.
around the world add another 3300 members to the count, and the 33,000
members of two female barbershop groups, the Sweet
Harmony International bring the total number of barbershop singers to
nearly 67,000 worldwide.
Can you imagine the sound if they could ever all get together in the same room!