Barbershop music is made up of four unaccompanied parts. The melody is consistently sung by the LEAD line, with the TENOR part harmonising above the melody line, the BASS part singing the lowest harmonising line, and the BARITONE completing the chord.
These parts can either be sung by individuals to create a quartet, or by numerous voices, so forming a chorus of singers. This close harmony is easily recognisable as the unique barbershop sound.
Traditionally these four parts have retained their labels, even when sung in higher pitch by ladies.
Barbershop singing was originally born in the 16th and 17th centuries in the barber- shops of America. Customers would pick up simple instruments while they waited for their turn in the chair.
During the ‘Gay 90’s’ of the 19th century, and the early part of the 20th century, the barbers shop was the place to ‘hang out’. Here dapper young fellows continued the tradition of singing, though this time without instruments. Their singing spilled out onto the streets where the style became known as ‘Lamppost’ or ‘Kerbstone’ Harmony. Soon no minstrel, vaudeville or music hall show was complete without a barbershop quartet as one of its acts.
In 1939, the first national barbershop organisation, the ‘Society for the Preservation & Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America’ (SPESQSA) was created (now referred to as the Barbershop Harmony Society), holding the first annual contests for barbershop quartets.
In 1953 the growing popularity of barbershop choruses was recognised when they were given their own annual competition. Since then organisations have sprung up in many countries all over the world including Ireland, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Southern Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
Barbershop spread to the UK in the 1950’s and the ‘British Association of Barbershop Singers’ (BABS) was formed by a group of six clubs in 1974. Two years after this the ‘Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers’ (LABBS) was formed. This organisation has grown immensely over the years, and currently has 48 clubs around the UK, with over 1800 members.
The aim of barbershop singing is to entertain. We have colourful costumes, and use movement and facial expression to convey the meaning of the songs to the audience. The barbershop style therefore appeals to a large cross section of the community. We sing a wide variety of songs, usually popular songs from the 20th century.