RED BANK, NJ - Flat hats, striped vests and handlebar mustaches worn by four men standing under a lamp-post crooning tunes in harmony conjures up an image of Americana that is the Barbershop Quartet.
Popularized in modern culture by The Music Man (Buffalo Bills Quartet), reprised in community theaters across the country.
Buffalo Bills Barbershop Quartet sings in The Music Man
Barbershop music has its roots in African-American spirituals and European folk music. At the turn of the 20th century, before radio, was sheet music and the parlor piano. Folks would gather around and sing the latest tunes of the day. The melody was sung and someone would harmonize by adding another note - the tenor voice, usually a third step above the melody. Another voice would add the bottom or bass note. When a fourth note was added, the baritone, the chord that was created resounded with overtones - a fifth note in the chord could be heard though no one was singing it. Thus was barbershop harmony born.
On April 11, 1938, Owen C. Cash and Rupert Hall invited 26 men to the Roof Garden of the Tulsa Club for a songfest. Soon after, Cash, the ever crafty PR man, sent a wire to the newspapers around the country informing them of the formation of (S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.) the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quaret Singing in America - a spoof on the many federal programs with acronyms under FDR.
Soon a network of chapters sprouted up around the country with conventions and contests.
The wives of these men, seeing the fun and comraderie of their husbands, decided they wanted in. Edna Mae Anderson of Tulsa, Oklahoma invited some women to her home to sing on July 13, 1945. On that evening, the "Sweet Adelines" were born. The group later became Sweet Adelines International.
Barbershop Music Appreciation Day was created in 2005 by Sweet Adelines International. It was started to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of their organization. This organization boasts over 300 choruses, and 15,000 singers.
The style has come a long way. The hit NBC television show, "Sing Off" featured a female quartet called Maxx Factor singing "Dancing Queen" among other songs during their many appearances in the quest for the number one spot.
The men's organization, S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. changed its name to the Barbershop Harmony Society in 2005.
With more than 30,000 members and 840 choruses in North America - it is the largest male singing group in the world - with 16 chapters in New Jersey alone.
Each year, Sweet Adelines International and the Barbershop Harmony Society hold separate conventions and contests to crown the best chorus and quartet in their organizations. Included are affiliate organizations around the world, like the Society of Nordic Barbershop Singers (SNOBS), British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS), Australian Association of Men's Barbershop Singers (AAMBS), Barbershop in Germany (BinG!) and others.
This year, a New Jersey chorus made it to the top 10 in the chorus competition. Brothers in Harmony of Hamilton Square came in 9th place at the International Contest held July 2, 2010 in Philadelphia.
Barbershop quartets have a unique style featuring upbeat tunes with characteristic harmonies that you're sure to be humming the rest of the day. These songs may not occupy a spot on the radio dial, but that doesn't mean you can't take a day to appreciate these tunes and the talented musicians who create them on your own.
So use Barbershop Music Appreciation Day as an excuse to expand the musical repertoire on your mp3 player, and your own musical knowledge. Download a few songs and take a day to appreciate the folks who keep this instantly recognizable style alive.
Local Chapters of the Barbershop Harmony Society (men)
Chorus of the Atlantic
Local Chapters of Sweet Adelines International (women)
Heart of New Jersey Chapter