Keeping The World In Harmony

Barbershop quartet singing is alive and well and CBS News Saturday Morning got a taste of barbershop when Riptide, a quartet from Atlanta, made an appearance recently.


Barbershop singing, like jazz, is a truly American style of music. It is a chromatic four-part harmony, sung a cappella. Four parts - the lead, tenor, bass and baritone - give barbershop its distinctive sound.

The sum is certainly greater than the parts. Melodies have a lyrical emphasis on simple, heartfelt emotions and concepts: love, friendship and the girl next door.

Historically, the barbershop was a gathering place for men of the community. And while they waited their turn, they would often harmonize a current popular song.

The first use of the term "barbershop" was in a song written in 1911, that declared: "Mr. Jefferson Lord, play that barbershop chord."

Barbershop was created at the turn of the century by "ear harmonizers" or "woodshedders," who sang without benefit of printed arrangements.

Songs today use the kinds of melodies best adapted to the style of those written in the heyday of Tin Pan Alley, from 1890 to 1920. Most vaudeville shows had a barbershop quartet, although the singers did not use that name.

Today, barbershop is kept alive by the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA), founded in 1938, in Tulsa, Okla., by O.C. Cash and Rupert Hall. The lengthy name was the tongue-in-cheek creation of Cash, designed to poke fun at the alphabet soup of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's many New Deal agencies. The society boasts more than 800 chapters across North America, each with a chorus (numbering from 20 to more than 120).

From these choruses quartets are formed. The society has nearly 2,000 registered quartets.

Riptide is the 1998 champion of the Dixie district, which encompasses the Southeast. The group represented the district at the 1999 international quartet contest, finishing 11th in the world.

The society, which stresses that barbershop is easy, has the motto "Keep the world singing." There's no need to learn an instrument, and singers enjoy teaching each other new tunes, fostering a unique community spirit. Thousands of barbershoppers get together regularly for festivals, competitions and good times.

With more than 34,000 members, the society is the world's largest all-male singing organization. There are also more than 4,000 affiliates in eight foreign countries.

And, yes, there are barbershop organizations for women. The biggest one is Sweet Adelines International with 29,000 members. Barbershop singing is often a family affair.

For more information on barbershop quartets, go to the SPEBSQSA Web site.

For women's barbershop organizations, visit th Web site of Sweet Adelines International and that of Harmony Inc.

Finally for more information on Riptide, go to the Riptide Web site.

©1999, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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