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75th Anniversary for world’s largest male singing organization

UPublish story by Mark Nedel

The Barbershop Harmony Society, a worldwide organization of acappella singers, has reached its 75th birthday, and wants to celebrate!

In recognition of this milestone of longevity, the governors of the United States, and the provinces of Canada, have been requested to issue proclamations, declaring the week of April 7th to 13th 2013, to be National Barbershop Harmony Week. In keeping with this recognition of tenure of the BHS; the Mayor of Akron, Donald L. Plusquellic; the Mayor of Cuyahoga Falls, Don L. Robart; and Summit County Executive Russell Pry, have joined our state’s chief executive by releasing their own public confirmations of this event.

“What could be sweeter than ten or twelve perfectly synchronized male voices singing "Dear Old Girl?”, wrote O. C. Cash in his letter to the men who were invited to his historic songfest.

Tulsa, OK – April 11, 1938 - The Barbershop Harmony Society was founded on this date, at the Roof Garden - a restaurant atop the Tulsa Club, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A patent attorney named Owen C. Cash, and his friend Rupert Hall, invited 14 men to a songfest, in the hopes of having an entertaining evening of song and camaraderie…26 men showed up and sparked the birth of the largest male acappella singing group in the world.

They sang and harmonized for hours.

The following week the gathering grew to 70 singers, and by the end of May, they were hosting up to 150 men each week. This group of singers became the founding chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America. (S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. is an acronym, named as a wry joke to make fun of FDR’s propensity to use “Alphabet Soup” to name his “New Deal” agencies).

Known today as the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), our hobby has spread across the country, to the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Europe, Japan, Australia and many other countries of the world - boasting a membership of over 24,000. International competitions to select the best quartets and choruses in the world culminate in a single annual event held in a major North America City, to choose the best of the best – the Gold, Silver, and Bronze medalist International Champions.

The Society has been touted as an organization of old men, and indeed the median age is in the low 60s. There has however been a steady Influx of younger men around High School and college age, thanks to our “Youth in Harmony” and collegiate programs in music education. We provide music educators with sheet music and materials, and the student learns what acappella harmony is all about. Many are “hooked” in High School music programs that are society funded, and very frequently the children of Barbershoppers follow in their Dad’s footsteps without the need for encouragement.

In the past, Barbershop harmony has been seen as always about the “Old Songs”. People are now realizing that the old songs, of which we sing, weren’t old when the society was formed. They were the new popular music largely originating in the Tin Pan Alley districts of New York, and other large American cities. They were sung in choral groups, on the stage, radio, and by many people in their homes, just for the enjoyment of singing. It was a more common form of entertainment in a less complicated society, the music was simpler and more melodic than today’s.

There are many contemporary songs that have been arranged for “Barbershop”, in a variety of genres, from Country and Western to show tunes, and from Doo-Wop to Gospel. Arranging the songs in Barbershop style makes it possible to “ring chords” and generate overtones, that will sent chills up and down your spine, – no accompaniment needed.

There’s a widely held belief among “Barbershoppers”, that time spent singing, is not deducted from your life span. The truth of the matter is that singing is beneficial to the body – it relieves stress, releases endorphins into the body that contribute to a euphoric state of mind, and oxygenates the blood. It lowers the blood pressure, bolsters your immune system, and gives the body a workout. In short, it contributes to a longer and more enjoyable life. And it’s fun!

We wish to thank those who attended our recent 66th annual show at Cuyahoga Falls High School. We’re very proud of the performances we put together and strive to present wholesome family entertainment suitable for the whole family. Anyone interested in learning more about this truly American art form, is invited to join us on any Tuesday evening at 7:30 PM, in the basement hall of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, @ 50 N. Prospect St. The entrance is on Park Avenue, across from the Haven of Rest Mission.

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