Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafemuddy

Post to this Thread - Sort Descending - Printer Friendly - Home

SPEBSQSA now 'Barbershop Harmony Society'

Related threads:
Barbershop please (8)
What's so wrong about Barbershop? (120)
Why don't I like Barber Shop style (30)
Barbershop sheet music wanted (6)
Lyr Req: barbershop songs (5)

Celtic Soul 15 Mar 04 - 09:44 PM
Johnny in OKC 15 Mar 04 - 10:55 PM
Amos 15 Mar 04 - 11:28 PM
wysiwyg 15 Mar 04 - 11:36 PM
Allan C. 15 Mar 04 - 11:38 PM
Sorcha 16 Mar 04 - 01:25 AM
JohnInKansas 16 Mar 04 - 02:00 AM
JohnInKansas 16 Mar 04 - 02:07 AM
Joe Offer 16 Mar 04 - 02:53 AM
GUEST,Martin Ryan 16 Mar 04 - 04:27 AM
M.Ted 16 Mar 04 - 12:16 PM
InOBU 16 Mar 04 - 12:34 PM
Burke 16 Mar 04 - 05:42 PM
Celtic Soul 16 Mar 04 - 10:10 PM
musicmick 17 Mar 04 - 01:40 AM
Joe Offer 29 Mar 11 - 03:35 PM
PoppaGator 29 Mar 11 - 05:36 PM
saulgoldie 29 Mar 11 - 05:52 PM
Joe Offer 29 Mar 11 - 06:23 PM
JohnInKansas 29 Mar 11 - 10:24 PM
Desert Dancer 01 Apr 11 - 08:35 PM
Crowhugger 02 Apr 11 - 11:05 AM
Share Thread
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:

Subject: Barbershop...
From: Celtic Soul
Date: 15 Mar 04 - 09:44 PM

Hello, all. Been awhile since I have posted here.

I was just looking to inquire of the amassed experience and knowledge at this site. I am wondering what makes "Barbershop" uniquely what it is. I do understand that there are very particular harmonies, etc...but, in the vernacular, what would it all be called (technically speaking). How does it relate to itself, and how does it differ from other harmony structures? Is it prone to 5ths? 7ths, what makes it "Barbershop"?

Thanks in advance! :)

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: Johnny in OKC
Date: 15 Mar 04 - 10:55 PM

It is four-part harmony in major keys, with a descant (tenor) above
the melody (lead), bari and bass below. And it is loaded with sevenths, but no major sevenths. Love songs and "novelty" tunes are common. They are still writing arrangements of modern tunes in the style,and women now also sing barbershop.

Love, Johnny

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: Amos
Date: 15 Mar 04 - 11:28 PM

Couldn't have said it better myself, not by a LONG shot.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: wysiwyg
Date: 15 Mar 04 - 11:36 PM

What about the doo wop harmony thread?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: Allan C.
Date: 15 Mar 04 - 11:38 PM

Lots of parallel harmonies, too.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: Sorcha
Date: 16 Mar 04 - 01:25 AM

And, very close harmonies at that

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 16 Mar 04 - 02:00 AM

One of the distinctive features of much of barbershop singing is that since it is usually unaccompanied, at least in the traditional "quartet," the "natural" scale is just "naturally" used. It's one of the few places to hear "the old way" i.e. before the equi-tempered scale(s) came into almost universal use.

The "characteristic" and "defining" chord used in barbershop goes by the technical name of the "hair on the legs" harmony. When the voices all blend in perfect, natural harmonic relationship, you hear rich chords with "notes that aren't there," and the harmonics are enough to "make the little hairs quiver" all over.

It's something that can't be done on any fretted or keyed instrument. (Even ancient keyed instruments built to play harmonic scales will seldom "hit it.") A really good string quartet (of the chamber music sort) gets it occasionally, and you might do it with a trombone quartet; but for most of us it's a "forgotten" effect. But any 4 guys that "hang around the barbershop" and sing together enough to learn how to "fit together" can likely "raise the hairs" at least occasionally.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 16 Mar 04 - 02:07 AM

You can look at a few samples of "Barbarshop Music" at SPEBSQSA Downloads.

They've got free samples.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: Joe Offer
Date: 16 Mar 04 - 02:53 AM

I was introduced to barbershop singing in grammar school, when my Scoutmaster was a member of the Dairymen Barbershop Chorus in Racine, Wisconsin. The headquarters of the SPEBSQSA is in Kenosha, ten miles south. The typical unit for barbershop singing is a quartet, but the units of the SPEBSQSA also usually have larger choruses that sing in typical barbershop four-part harmony.

I've noticed in recent years that many barbershop quartets sing what I think of as doo-wop songs, as opposed to the old-fashioned humorous or sentimental songs that were the usual fare for earlier quartets.

-Joe Offer-

(Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: GUEST,Martin Ryan
Date: 16 Mar 04 - 04:27 AM

I sang in a barbershop chorus for a few years, about ten years ago. I enjoyed the SOUND - just to be in the middle of it was wonderful when you got it right. Eventually, the essential silliness of the songs themselves got to me and I reverted to cheerful traditional ditties about incest, shipwreck, murder and mayhem.

What I took away from the experience was, I think, much improved breathing and a better ear for harmony. I also enjoyed the company - it seems to attract some very companionable people.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: M.Ted
Date: 16 Mar 04 - 12:16 PM

The "Barbershop Quartet" harmonies are really derived from classical music, rather that traditional music--From the time that records were first made, Quartets, like the Peerless Quartet, American Quartet, and the Hayden Quartet, were among the most popular recording artists--invariably, when a song was popular, there would be recordings available by a number of quartets, the arrangements were of the "light classical" sort(in truth, what passed for Quartet singing actually featured more than four singers)--

Back in those days, recordings were a sort of novelty though, and if you wanted music, you had to make your own, so informal group singing, often with simple improvised harmonies, was a common social activity--no quartets though, everyone joined in--

This wonderful custom began to disappear as recordings, radio, and movies became the standard entertainments, and the automobile culture broke up the old neigborhoods--but it was fondly, if not accurately, remembered, and recreated, often ironically, in the movies, on radio, and in recordings--

For one thing, the singing tended to occur in barrooms, not barbershops, for another, the songs were inclined to be more boisterous, colorful, and raw--the book, My Pious Friends and Drunken Companions is a collection that gives a more accurate picture of what was sung--

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: InOBU
Date: 16 Mar 04 - 12:34 PM

Well to see what Barber shop is NOT...SORCHA DORCHA will be at the HALF KING restaurant and pub, this Wends. Saint Patrick's Day on 23rd street between 10th and 11th Ave. from 7 pm to 10 ... As expected Lorcan Otway on vocals uilleann pipes flute whistle bodhran and the great Jane Kelton on flute whistle and key board, Seanin An Fear on Mandolin, Joe Charupakorn on guitar... the joint is already rumbling, so stay from Give us a drink of water to An Phis Fluich, all yer ol' favs...
Cheers, Is mise, le meas, Lorcan Otway

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: Burke
Date: 16 Mar 04 - 05:42 PM

SPEBSQSA sponsors competitions at various levels from regions to international. An acquaintance of mine judges on the international level.

My understanding from him, is that there are fairly strict rules in regard to the type on harmonies & lyrical content to qualify for competitive purposes. I suspect that doo-wop type arrangement would never qualify. What the groups do apart from competition is another matter.

The local choir does a show that is always very well attended. The average age of it's members seems to be fairly high.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: Celtic Soul
Date: 16 Mar 04 - 10:10 PM

Thanks, everyone!! You guys are the best!!

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Barbershop...
From: musicmick
Date: 17 Mar 04 - 01:40 AM

I was, for a while, a member of the Mainliners chorus in Bryn Mawr, PA
It was a rewarding and enriching experience. The demanding schedule of rehearsals for competitions was the only reason I stopped going to meetings. I would advise anyone who enjoys singing and would like to improve his vocal skills to join a chapter and stand on the risers with as fine a crowd as I have ever known. (I still have a few of the arrangements including what they call Barbershop Polecat Songs, which are the numbers that all the choruses sing about the same.)

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: SPEBSQSA now 'Barbershop Harmony Society'
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 Mar 11 - 03:35 PM

Someone contacted me last night and told me that our link to is no longer working. I checked, and that's the truth - SPEBSQSA is no more. All my effort at memorizing that string of letters, is now for naught.

I've never been a member of a barbershop quartet, but I've always loved barbershop singing. I grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, a barbershop world. My scoutmaster was a barbershopper. Heck, I even went to a Catholic barbershop Mass when I was a kid. I worked in Alaska in December, 1994, and one of the highlights of my trip was attending a coworker's barbershop Christmas concert. At gatherings of coworkers, I'd always enlist the barbershoppers to gather and sing a few songs - and I'd sing with them.

As this outdated history says, the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA) was founded in 1938. Wikipedia says the international headquarters of the Society was Harmony Hall, a historic lakefront mansion in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for fifty years. The Society sold Harmony Hall in 2003. In August 2007, the Society completed the relocation to 110 Seventh Avenue North, in Nashville.

NASHVILLE? How could they move to Nashville, of all places? That's almost as much of a commercial sellout as moving to Hollywood, fer chrissake.

In 2004, the Society became the Barbershop Harmony Society, and its Website is now

I do wonder how all this will affect the future of barbershop singing. The barbershop singing I heard as a kid was mostly corny or sentimental songs, punctuated by equally corny humor. Nowadays, barbershop quartets are highly competitive and very slick and sophisticated in their arrangements - which tend more to doo wop than traditional barbershop songs. Barbershop is still fun to listen to, but the amateur aspect of barbershop singing seems to be disappearing.

Any other observations on the future of barbershop singing? Is "Down by the Old Mill Stream" dead and gone?

    The information below is out-of-date, so I copy-pasted it so we'll have it to document the Glory Days when barbershop singing had its home in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The current, Nashville-based Barbershop Harmony Society Website, makes little mention of either Kenosha or the SPEBSQSA.

About S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.

SPEBSQSA and Barbershop History


Preserving an art form: the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. (SPEBSQSA)

As much a part of American culture as Old Glory, Mom and apple pie, barbershop quartet singing is one of America's native art forms. It is alive today, largely through the efforts of an organization called the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).

Though the roots of four-part harmony go back more than a century, it was not until the near-accidental formation of the Society that barbershop quartet music was actively promoted.

The Early Years

SPEBSQSA was founded in 1938, when Tulsa tax attorney Owen C. Cash happened to meet a fellow Tulsan, investment banker Rupert I. Hall, while both were in Kansas City, stranded when a storm closed the airport. Meeting by chance in a hotel lobby, the men discovered their mutual love for vocal harmony, and together they bemoaned the decline of that all-American institution, the barbershop quartet.

Twenty-six men attended the first rooftop meeting, and all agreed they should do it again. Attendance at subsequent meetings multiplied rapidly; at the third gathering, more than 150 harmonizers raised such a sound that traffic stopped on the street below. A reporter for the Tulsa Daily World chanced to pass by the scene, sensed a good story, and put the story on the national news wire. The lengthy name and initials, founder Cash's way of poking fun at the New Deal's "alphabet soup" of initialed government agencies, captured the imagination of readers coast to coast, and inquiries came pouring in.

The Society Today

SPEBSQSA is now the world's largest all-male singing organization, with more than 34,000 singers in more than 800 chapters in the United States and Canada. Another 4,000 barbershoppers are members of affiliated organizations in Australia, Germany, Great Britain, The Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden.

The Society is headquartered in Kenosha, Wisconsin (until the 2007 move to Nashville), in an historic, 1930s-era mansion on the shores of Lake Michigan. Harmony Hall is home to the Old Songs Library, the world's largest privately-held collection of sheet music, containing 750,000 sheets and 125,000 titles from the heyday of Tin Pan Alley. The Heritage Hall Museum of Barbershop Harmony, also located in Harmony Hall, serves as repository for barbershop memorabilia, early recordings, costumes, research materials and historical documents tracing the roots of the barbershop style.

A professional staff of 40 administers a wide range of programs and services, including:

  • The Harmonizer, a bi-monthly magazine for members Digital mastering of studio and video productions 
  • Music publishing services, with more than 600 barbershop arrangements in print 
  • Convention planning for meetings attended by more than 13,000 members annually 
  • Harmony Marketplace, a merchandise operation that grossing more than $1 million annually 
  • A traveling staff of music and membership specialists who conduct numerous workshops and clinics throughout North America 
  • Education programs such as Chapter Officer Training Schools Directors Colleges and Harmony College, a week-long school attended by more than 600 singers annually


Barbershop History

Was barbershop harmony actually sung in barbershops?

Certainly - and on street corners (it was sometimes called "curbstone" harmony) and at social functions and in parlors. Its roots are not just the white, Middle-America of Norman Rockwell's famous painting. Rather, barbershop is a "melting pot" product of African-American musical devices, European hymn-singing culture, and an American tradition of recreational music - a tradition SPEBSQSA continues today.

Immigrants to the new world brought with them a musical repertoire that included hymns, psalms, and folk songs. These simple songs were often sung in four parts with the melody set in the second-lowest voice.

Minstrel shows of the mid-1800s often consisted of the white singers in blackface (later black singers themselves) performing songs and sketches based on a romanticized vision of plantation life. As the minstrel show was supplanted by the equally popular vaudeville, the tradition of close-harmony quartets remained, often as a "four act" combining music with ethnic comedy that would be scandalous by modern standards.

The "barbershop" style of music is first associated with black southern quartets of the 1870s, such as The American Four and The Hamtown Students. The African influence is particularly notable in the improvisational nature of the harmonization, and the flexing of melody to produce harmonies in "swipes" and "snakes." Black quartets, "cracking a chord" were commonplace at places like Joe Sarpy's Cut Rate Shaving Parlor in St. Louis, or in Jacksonville, Florida, where, black historian Hames Weldon Johnson writes, "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 the song, "Play That Barbershop Chord" - evidence that the term was in common parlance by that time.

Tin Pan Alley era: Edison's talking machine spreads harmony nationwide

Today, we are accustomed to receiving all forms of music in every home by way of CD, cassette, radio and video. In the early 1900s, though, pop music success depended on sales of sheet music to the general public.

The song writers of Tin Pan Alley made their living by appealing to the needs and tastes of the recreational musician. To become a sheet-music hit, songs had to be easily singable by average singers, with a average vocal ranges and average control. This called for songs with simple, straightforward melodies, and heartfelt, commonplace themes and images. Music published in that era often included an instrumental arrangement for piano or ukulele, and also a vocal arrangement for male quartet.

The phonograph made it possible to actually hear the new songs coming from Tin Pan Alley. Professional quartets recorded hundreds of songs for the Victor, Edison, and Columbia labels, which spurred sheet music sales. For example, "You're The Flower Of My Heart, Sweet Adeline" captured the hearts of harmony lovers, not simply because it easily adapted to harmony, but also because it was heavily promoted by the popular Quaker City Four and other quartets.

Jazz era: Changes in American music and social habits

The coming of radio prompted a shift in American popular music. Song writers turned out more sophisticated melodies for the professional singers of radio and phonograph. 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 casual crooning.

Radio quartets kept close harmony singing popular with many amateur singers, though - and these singers were ready for the revival of barbershop harmony that took place in April, 1938, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Birth of SPEBSQSA: the dream of O.C. Cash and Rupert Hall

While traveling to Kansas City on business, Tulsa tax attorney O.C. Cash happened to meet fellow Tulsan Rupert Hall in the lobby of the Muehlebach Hotel. The men fell to talking and discovered they shared a mutual love of vocal harmony. Together they bemoaned the decline of that all-American institution, the barbershop quartet, and decided to stem that decline.

Signing their names as "Rupert Hall, Royal Keeper of the Minor Keys, and O.C. Cash, Third Temporary Assistant vice Chairman," of the "Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in the United States" [sic], the two invited their friends to songfest on the roof garden of the Tulsa Club, on April 11, 1938.

Twenty-six men attended that first meeting, and returned the following week with more friends. About 150 men attended the third meeting, and the grand sounds of harmony they raised on the rooftop created quite a stir. A traffic jam formed 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 joined the meeting.

O.C. Cash bluffed his way through the interview, saying his organization was national in scope, with branches in St. Louis, Kansas City and elsewhere. He simply neglected to mention was that these "branches" were just a few scattered friends who enjoyed harmonizing, but knew nothing of Cash's new club.

Cash's flair for publicity, combined with the unusual name (the ridiculous initials poked fun at the alphabet soup of New Deal programs), made an irresistible story for the news wire services, which spread it coast-to-coast. Cash's "branches" started receiving puzzling calls from men interested in joining the barbershop society. Soon, groups were meeting throughout North America to sing barbershop harmony.

SPEBSQSA was born.

Courtesy of Heritage Hall Museum of Barbershop Harmony located in Kenosha, Wisconsin.



Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: SPEBSQSA now 'Barbershop Harmony Society'
From: PoppaGator
Date: 29 Mar 11 - 05:36 PM

Thanks Joe ~ fascinating stuff that is apparently disappearing from written history at this very moment.

The old SPEBSQSA was all-male, I see above. Were they somehow affilliated with the all-female "Sweet Adelines" who had (probaly still do have) chapters allover the country? Is the new Barbershop Harmony Assn co-ed?

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: SPEBSQSA now 'Barbershop Harmony Society'
From: saulgoldie
Date: 29 Mar 11 - 05:52 PM

Ahhh, SPEBSQSA. Yesss! I must admit that I am "part of the problem." I am a quiet fan of barbershop AND Sweet Adelines. I consider it part of the "folk music" world under my own personal definition. And yes, too, I think appreciation of this very important art form is, alas, dying along with us. I guess it is too "quaint" for the techno era. Sad.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: SPEBSQSA now 'Barbershop Harmony Society'
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 Mar 11 - 06:23 PM

The Website for the Sweet Adelines is Their headquarters is in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I've seem many joint activities sponsored by both the Sweet Adelines and SPEBSQSA. I always assumed they were "sister" organizations, but I don't see anything on either Website that indicates a tie between the organizations. Maybe they developed separately. I think the Sweet Adelines emphasize large-chorus singing over quartets.

Wikipedia says the Sweet Adelines were founded in 1947 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by wives of SPEBSQSA members who wanted to enjoy the same harmonizing their husbands enjoyed.

By the way, there's a very interesting article about barbershop singing at Wikipedia.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: SPEBSQSA now 'Barbershop Harmony Society'
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 29 Mar 11 - 10:24 PM

In a couple of areas where I've had contact with participants, both SPEB members and Adelines referred to the Adelines as "the Ladies Auxiliary of SPEBSQSA."

One or two contest programs in the 50s used the same terminology, where the Adelines were "guest artists."

I don't recall ever seeing any "official" affiliation agreements between the two orgs, and "charters" I've seen don't mention each other.

In the contests I've seen, the competition was limited to male quartets, although both male and female (but not mixed) choral groups usually performed as "bonus entertainment." It's been decades, though, since I've been to a contest.

The Adelines where I knew members were always larger groups, and frequently had sufficient notoriety to have a degree of company sponsorship as "company clubs."

Although I heard rumors that a few SPEB-style female quartets were beginning to appear with some visibility a few years back, I don't know whether they were ever admitted to the SPEB contests. There was, of course, considerable grumbling by the old-line (male) SPEBs about "the insult to tradition, degeneration of morality, offenses to the social order, the destruction of civilization as we know it" but I wasn't close enough to any of those who claimed (pretended?) to be upset to be able to tell whether it was really complaining or just "friendly banter."


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: SPEBSQSA now 'Barbershop Harmony Society'
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 01 Apr 11 - 08:35 PM

Fans of barbershop might be interested in this young man's YouTubes of a capella music -- he's multi-tracked himself: Danny Fong.

~ Becky in Long Beach

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: Women's barbershop
From: Crowhugger
Date: 02 Apr 11 - 11:05 AM

Sweet Adelines International has plentiful and robust quartet as well as chorus members AND competitions. No legal connection to the men's organization, but certainly lots of co-operation occurs daily at many levels. SAI was started (I forget what year) by wives of barbershoppers who wanted to have the same kind of musical fun.

Six choruses left SAI in 1958 and in 1959 created Harmony, Incorporated. This was after intense efforts failed to reverse a bylaw amendment limiting membership to white women only. In the early sixties a number of Canadian choruses made news headlines as they left SAI, being prime time civil rights era. Harmony Inc includes clear democratic process as part of its objects, so that the top-down rule changes done by SAI in 1958 cannot happen in HI. As I understand it, not until sometime in the 1980s was the SAI bylaw changed to allow women of colour.   

Sadly that's a part of history that most SAI members pooh-pooh as not important, and they prefer to bury it rather than properly acknowledge it and move on. I haven't found a SAI member willing to talk about it.

Equally sadly, the quality medal-winning Harmony Inc choruses and quartets is well below medalists in Sweet Adelines. For some reason the culture of HI doesn't support both hobbyists and serious competitors in the way SAI seems to do, perhaps being too small to do both successfully.

In 2009 Harmony Inc celebrated their 50th anniversary during its convention and competition. It was held in Providence, RI to honour the Providence chorus that spearheaded the fight against racism in Sweet Adelines. Interestingly, to this day all 3 barbershop organizations (HI, BHS, SAI) are remarkably uniracial on the pale side even though it was reputed to have originated amongst the darkest Americans.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
  Share Thread:

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")

Mudcat time: 22 September 12:45 PM EDT

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.