Some believe that barbershop singing has its roots in the African-American culture, because it originated from men gathering together to sing at the neighborhood barbershop. This style of singing has no musical accompaniment, and is performed by men singing basic four-part harmonies.
People of a certain age today can remember the sounds of men crooning at a loved one, singing to their special gals, or just singing for the enjoyment and entertainment of others. It was a sweet era―as it embodied the enjoyment, fun, frivolity, and light romance that music provided during the early years of the 20th century.
Sadly, barbershop singing began to fade away with the introduction of new music genres (pop, jazz, blues, etc.) However, there were two men from Tulsa, Oklahoma, that got together to make sure that barbershop singing would not be a dying art. Owen Cash, a lawyer, and Rupert Hall, a banker, combined forces, and on Monday, April 11, 1938, at 6:30pm, 26 men gathered together on the rooftop of the Alvi Hotel and began to sing in four-part harmony. Thus began the revitalization.
All across America, men responded by forming their own singing groups, and later in 1938, the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (that's a mouthful!) was born. Today, the acronym (SPEBQSA) has been shortened, and the organization is now called the Barbershop Harmony Society. The society has expanded, and consists of districts and chapters from all across the US and internationally. This genre of music has 'invaded' college campuses, and now young men are learning the style and helping to increase its popularity within their age group. Not only does each district or chapter provide a fun environment for singing, but also groups sing in their communities for fundraisers, have local concerts, deliver singing valentines, and other things to continue to promote and educate about barbershop music.
The Barbershop Harmony Society is committed to bringing men together to enrich their lives through singing. To that end, they envision being the premier organization for men who love to sing. National competitions as well as international competitions provide opportunities for the different chapters to claim bragging rights as the best group!
It's evident that barbershop singing has been preserved by the vision of two men and twenty-six participants on that fateful night in Oklahoma over fifty years ago. Little did they know that their act of coming together to sing would have such a ripple effect across the US and into other continents. One has to wonder if a member of the Barbershop Harmony Society wrote the lyrics to the Coke commercial jingle used in the 1970s. "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony" certainly fits, and could actually be their theme song!