167. In Four-Part Harmony

I wish I could sing.  If I could sing, I would definitely sing in a barbershop quartet.

Barbershop quartets aren’t in style right now, but they should be.  Along with the harmonica and the ukelele, maybe the bad economic times will allow this kind of harmony to sneak back into popularity.

Barbershop quartets don’t need any electrical outlets and any other instruments but their four voices. They don’t even need to know how to cut hair.  A guy (supposedly) named Chuck Sigars said:

“There’s no bad day that can’t be overcome by listening to a barbershop quartet; this is just truth, plain and simple.” From The World According to Chuck weblog, September 30, 2003

This is Professor Harold Hill’s famous “tutorial” for the four previously warring school board members in “The Music Man”.  I wish he could teach our current U.S. Congress to harmonize like this.

When you think of a barbershop quartet, the image that probably comes to mind is that of a singing group of four white gentlemen in straw hats and striped vests. What many people do not know is that barbershop quartets actually developed among black men socializing in barbershops. The men would simply sit around, converse, sing and enjoy each other’s company. It quickly gained popularity among white performers and by the end of the 19th century, it was almost entirely performed by white men.

As explained by the Acapella Foundation, the style of harmony “is characterized by its consonant, four-part, ringing chords which accommodate each note of the melody.” The main melody in barbershop quarter harmony, sung by the lead, is near the range of second tenor for men. The harmony is then built around this melody, allowing for a full-voiced effect. The tenor sings above the melody with a slightly lighter quality, while the bass sings the low notes and the baritone sings the remaining middle notes.”

Another drastic change that occurred over the years is the introduction of female singers. Traditionally, barbershop quartets involved only male performers. However, women eventually made their way into the quartets.

In 1938, Owen C. Cash founded the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Signing in America Incorporated. Commonly referred to as the “Barbershop Harmony Society,” this organization welcomes more than 30,000 male quartet singers into its membership. A similar organization was developed for female quartet singers in 1945. As of 2010, Sweet Adelines International welcomes more than 30,000 female quartet singers into its membership.

Now for a rendition of “Lida Rose”.


Doesn’t it make you want to join ‘em? (But if your voice sounds like mine, say “No”, please.)

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2 Responses to 167. In Four-Part Harmony

  1. Linda Lewis says:

    I like to sing harmony with others because I do NOT like to sing solo. So interesting about the history. Thanks.

  2. Tricia says:

    Joined Sweet Adelines last year… what a wonderful group of women and SO MUCH FUN! Thanks for your blog post!

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