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Barbershop harmony singing is truly an American art form having its roots at the turn of the 20th century. Around that time the local barbershop was not only a place for a shave and a haircut, but a place to ‘hang out’ - a social gathering place for men. In addition to the daily gossip of the barbershop, singing simple melodies to which others could harmonize became a feature of many barbershops. Consequently, the term ‘Barbershop’ came to represent this particular style of singing.
This four-part harmony a cappella style of singing continued to grow and could be heard at social functions, picnics, minstrel shows and eventually vaudeville. The barbershop style is distinctive from other singing styles because the melody, sung by the lead voice, is below the tenor harmony. The lowest harmony is sung by the bass and the baritone voice completes the four-part chord. Close harmony and ringing chords are what distinguish the barbershop style.
A more formal organization of barbershop singers began to form around 1938 when a gentleman by the name of O. C. Cash invited friends who shared his love of harmonizing to a songfest on the rooftop of a hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At each of the next two meetings more men gathered on the rooftop and the grand sounds attracted quite a crowd. When Mr. Cash was interviewed about what was going on, he saw an opportunity to promote his love of vocal harmony on a grander scale and said his ‘organization’ was the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America – SPEBSQSA. Word of this new ‘organization’ spread and soon men from all over North America were interested in joining this new society. Today SPEBSQSA is known as the Barbershop Harmony Society and continues to promote and preserve this style of singing.
The popularity of barbershop singing continues to spread and can be heard today by men’s and ladies’ quartets and choruses throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, South Africa, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan.