What is barbershop?

The Barbershop Style:

Barbershop singing, like jazz and the spiritual, is a truly American style of music. Barbershop harmony is a style of unaccompanied singing with three voices harmonizing to the melody. The voice parts are called tenor, lead, baritone and bass. Characteristically, the lead sings the melody and the tenor harmonizes above, while the bass sings below the lead and the baritone fills the four-part chord by singing over or under the lead. The style is further identified by chords that are harmonious (pleasing). Tuning is as nearly perfect as is vocally possible. The style is distinguished by uniformity of word sounds and special emphasis on close harmony with the 7th being the predominant chord. Barbershop harmony can be sung by either a quartet or a chorus. While quartets only have four singers, choruses may number from 12 to more than 100 singers. Barbershop harmony remains a participatory form of music making, intrinsic to our culture, closely associated with community life and open to all those who respond to the balanced blend of voices raised in song. It's fun and anyone can do it. It's great to be a barbershopper!

 

History of Barbershop:

Back in April, 1938, the Society was born. As the story goes, two Tulsa acquaintances, tax lawyer O. C. Cash and investment man Rupert I. Hall, met by accident in Kansas City. Their talk drifted to music and they soon found a mutual interest in the older, sweeter harmony songs and the memories and traditions revived by singing those songs. Cash outlined to Hall the dream of organizing a barbershop quartet club. Hall promised, that when he returned to Tulsa, he would call Cash and "get this thing started."

 

He arranged for the original meeting at the Tulsa Club and drafted an invitation which stated in part that, "In this age of Dictators and Government control of everything, about the only privilege guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, not in some way supervised or directed, is the art of Barbershop Quartet Singing", and that, "something should be done to encourage the enjoyment of this last remaining vestige of human liberty. Therefore we have decided to hold a songfest on the Roof Garden of the Tulsa Club on Monday, April 11, at six-thirty p.m." The third meeting of this group really started America's rush to singing. About 150 men attended this meeting. As the gang-singing started, someone noticed a traffic jam outside the hotel. While police tried to straighten out the problem, a reporter of the local newspaper heard the singing, sensed a great story, and attended the meeting. The wire services caught the story and spread it coast-to-coast. Soon Kansas City, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Grand Rapids, St. Paul, Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, and smaller places from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada had groups meeting to sing barbershop harmony.

 

The first convention and quartet contests were held in Tulsa in June, 1939, where the Bartlesville Barflies were proclaimed winners of the Society's World Championship.

As the popularity grew, a chorus contest was added in 1953 during the Detroit Convention. The Grand Rapids, Michigan chapter won first prize honors. So on April 11th of each year, our Society relives its founding. This celebration has been extended to an entire month to include guests nights and spring convention activities.

 

The Barbershop singing style revival is not limited to one month, however. With the continuing study of harmonics and the voice, the four-part singing style has been redefined. Over the years, written arrangements have reflected the evolution of the singing style from those early years. Popular songs are being arranged in the barbershop style as well, with the result that now, there are thousands of tunes ranging from the turn of the century to the present day, sung in the barbershop style. Quartets are now singing songs reflective of Fred Waring and Norman Luboff as well as Paul McCartney, Glen Miller, and John Philip Sousa . Irving Berlin's songs are very popular in the Society.

 

Since that first meeting in Tulsa the spirit of a truly American form of music has been preserved and encouraged by those who sing in harmony. The Society's goal to "keep the whole world singing" has maintained this musical idiom in spreading chords throughout the world.

 
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