Barbershop Harmony Society

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Barbershop Harmony Society
Official Barbershop Harmony Society logo
Official Barbershop Harmony Society logo
Background information
Also known asSociety for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc.
OriginTulsa, Oklahoma
GenresA cappella
Barbershop music
Years active1938–present
Members22,000 (2015)[1]

The Barbershop Harmony Society, legally and historically named the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. (SPEBSQSA), is the first of several organizations to promote and preserve barbershop music as an art form. Founded by Owen C. Cash and Rupert I. Hall in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1938,[2] the organization quickly grew, promoting barbershop harmony among men of all ages. As of 2014, just under 23,000 men in the United States and Canada were members of this organization whose focus is on a cappella music. The international headquarters was in Kenosha, Wisconsin for fifty years before moving to Nashville, Tennessee in 2007. In June 2018, the society announced it would allow women to join as full members.

A parallel women's singing organization, Sweet Adelines International (SAI) was founded in 1945. A second women's barbershop harmony organization, Harmony, Incorporated, broke from SAI in 1959 over an issue of racial exclusion,[3] with SAI (like SPEBSQSA and many other organizations) being white-only at that time; SPEBSQSA officially lifted the requirement in 1963.[4] Several international affiliate organizations, in countries around the world, add their own flavor to the signature sound of barbershop harmony.


The original name SPEBSQSA was intended as a lampoon on Roosevelt's New Deal alphabet agencies.[5] Because of the name's length and the difficult-to-pronounce acronym, society staff and members often refer to SPEBSQSA as The Society. For decades, SPEBSQSA was the official name, while the Barbershop Harmony Society was an officially recognized and sanctioned alternate. Members were encouraged to use the alternate name, because it was felt that the official name was an in-joke that did not resonate outside the Society. In mid-2004, faced with declining membership, the Society adopted a marketing plan that called for using "Barbershop Harmony Society" consistently and retaining the old name for certain legal purposes.

The old official name spelled "barber shop" as two words, while barbershop is generally used elsewhere.

In reference to the acronym SPEBSQSA, The Society has said "attempts to pronounce the name are discouraged".[6] Unofficially, it is sometimes pronounced as if it were spelled "Spebsqua".[7]

Sharp Harmony, a Norman Rockwell painting, appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post magazine issue dated September 26, 1936; it depicts a barber and three clients enjoying a cappella song. The image was adopted by SPEBSQSA in its promotion of the art.

In late 2004, the Society established Barbershop Harmony Society as its new "brand name", with a logo and identity program released in 2005. The legal name remained SPEBSQSA, Inc.


A key aspect of the Society's mission is in the preservation of barbershop music. To this end, it maintains the Old Songs Library. Holding over 100,000 titles (750,000 sheets) this is the largest sheet music collection in the world excepting only the Library of Congress.

The "Barberpole Cat Program" is a collection of 12 songs (commonly known as "polecats") that are considered standard repertoire for every barbershopper ("Let Me Call You Sweetheart", "My Wild Irish Rose", etc.)[8] Every member receives a booklet upon joining the society. The purpose of this collection is so that whenever any barbershoppers meet they will always have something ready to sing. The society has also published collections such as Strictly Barbershop.

Harmony Foundation International, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, was incorporated in 1959 as a charitable subsidiary of the Barbershop Harmony Society; it raises financial support for the society's programs.[9]

Headquarters and membership[edit]

Current headquarters in Nashville

Coordinates: 36°9′36″N 86°46′52″W / 36.16000°N 86.78111°W / 36.16000; -86.78111 In 2003, in preparation for a new headquarters location, the Society sold both Harmony Hall, a historic lakefront mansion in Kenosha, Wisconsin,[10] and its nearby facility (known as Harmony Hall West) located in a strip mall which the Society purchased in 1976 and renovated. HHW had housed finance, merchandising, IT and membership. Operations and staff from both buildings were consolidated into a remodeled HHW.

In 2006 the Society announced plans to move its headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee.[11] In August 2007, the Society completed the relocation to 110 Seventh Avenue North, in Nashville.

In June 2018, the society announced it would allow women to join as full members, with each chapter deciding whether to remain all-male or add a mixed or all-women's chorus.[12] Since 2009, women had been allowed to join as associates.[13]

Contests and awards[edit]

To promote and improve barbershop singing, the society annually runs international and district-level contests for choruses and quartets.

When a quartet wins the international gold medal, the foursome is considered champions forever and may not compete again. A chorus that wins the gold, however, must sit out of competition for only two years and thus may compete for the gold medal again in the third year following their win.

International quartet champions[edit]

Chorus champions[edit]

  • The Vocal Majority, based in Dallas, Texas, thirteen-time International Chorus Champions (1975, 1979, 1982, 1985, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2014, 2018) – the chorus with the most international gold medals, ten of which were in succession (each time the chorus was eligible to compete) until 2009.
  • The Ambassadors of Harmony, based in St. Charles, Missouri, International Chorus Champions in 2004, 2009, 2012 and 2016. Their 2009 championship interrupted the Vocal Majority's streak at 10 consecutive championships.
  • The Masters of Harmony, nine-time International Chorus Champions (1990, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2017).
  • The Westminster Chorus, a youth barbershop chorus in California started by young members of the Masters of Harmony, International Champion in 2007, 2010, 2015 and 2019.
  • The Louisville Thoroughbreds Chorus, the society's first 7-time International Champion chorus won the gold medal in 1962, 1966, 1969, 1974, 1978, 1981 and 1984.

BHS Awards[edit]

In 2020, the society inaugurated an annual Awards Gala to "amplify and celebrate" those who have impacted the barbershop genre via excellence and service. Award nominations are accepted from January into February, selected nominees announced in April, and winners made known during the black tie gala held early in the week of the international contests. Awards are given for the Barbershopper, Quartet, Ensemble, Arranger, Innovator, Ambassador, Album, and Video of the Year, as well as Lifetime Achievement for an Arranger. Several pre-existent awards and honors are also now announced at the gala, including Hall of Fame, Honorary Membership, Harmony Fellows (50-year members) and the Joe Liles Lifetime Achievement Award (for a chorus director). With the inaugural year's international convention canceled due to COVID-19, a virtual awards event was held on September 14, 2020.[21]

Year Video Album Innovator Arranger Lifetime Achievement Ambassador Ensemble Quartet Barbershopper
Director Arranger
2019 Spider-Man[22] by Midtown Volume III by GQ Barbershop Revival Theo Hicks Greg Clancy
20 names
  • Renee Craig, Aaron Dale, Tom Gentry, Jay Giallombardo, Don Gray, S.K. Grundy, David Harrington, Val Hicks, Clay Hine, Walter Latzko, Joe Liles, Earl Moon, Lou Perry, Sigmund Spaeth, Dave Stevens, Burt Szabo, Greg Volk, Ed Waesche, David Wright, Larry Wright
Barberdrunk Alexandria Harmonizers The Newfangled Four Will Downey

Districts [edit]

For purposes of administration, particularly of local education and contests, the society is organized into 17 geographical districts as follows.[23] (Chapter quantities are as of November 2017.)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2015 Annual Report" (PDF). Barbershop Harmony Society. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  2. ^ Hicks, Val J. (1988), Heritage of Harmony New Past Press, ISBN 0-938627-04-X, p. 14
  3. ^ Averill, Gage (2003), Four Parts: No Waiting, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-511672-0, p. 132: "Sweet Adelines had no black members, and no one was aware of any black singers who had petitioned to join the organization. Still, the board argued that there had always been tacit agreement about racial exclusion and it was time to formalize this policy...."
  4. ^ Gadkar-Wilcox, Wynn (March 2015). "Article understated the extent of past racism" (PDF). The Harmonizer. p. 4. Retrieved June 2, 2016. exclusion of African-Americans from Society—officially until 1963
  5. ^ "Preserving an art form: the Barbershop Harmony Society". Barbershop Harmony Society. November 28, 2006. Archived from the original on April 7, 2007. Retrieved May 19, 2007.
  6. ^ Stebbins, Robert (1996). The Barbershop Singer: Inside the Social World of a Musical Hobby. University of Toronto Press. pp. 23–37, 117. ISBN 3-540-63293-X.
  7. ^ Boudette, Neal E. (July 2, 2007). "Quartets Contend With Disharmony In the Barbershop". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 9, 2013.
  8. ^ "Barberpole Cat Program Learn the Common Repertoire of 12 Songs Every Barbershopper Should Know". Nashville, Tennessee: Barbershop Harmony Society. February 14, 2006. Archived from the original on March 21, 2011.
  9. ^ "Harmony Foundation, International, Inc". Harmony Foundation. Archived from the original on December 10, 2017. Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  10. ^ "Remembering historic Harmony Hall Archived October 17, 2007, at the Wayback Machine". Barbershop Harmony Society. November 28, 2006. Retrieved on May 19, 2007.
  11. ^ "Barbershop Harmony Society to seek HQ site in Nashville" Archived June 26, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Barbershop Harmony Society. January 20, 2006. Retrieved on May 19, 2007.
  12. ^ Flanagan, Andrew (June 20, 2018). "After 80 Years, The Barbershop Harmony Society Will Allow Women To Join". NPR. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  13. ^ Hall, Kristin M. (June 20, 2018). "Barbershop Harmony Society to integrate women after 80 years". Associated Press. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  14. ^ "Official Scoring Summary, BHS, International, Quartet Finals, Las Vegas, Nevada, July 5, 2014" (PDF). Barbershop Harmony Society. July 5, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  15. ^ "Official Scoring Summary, BHS, MBNA America Collegiate Barbershop Quartet Contest International, Quartet Finals, Indianapolis, Indiana" (PDF). Barbershop Harmony Society. July 8, 2006. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  16. ^ "Official Scoring Summary, BHS, Bank of America Collegiate Barbershop Quartet Contest International, Quartet Finals Collegiate, Nashville, Tennessee" (PDF). July 5, 2008. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  17. ^ "Ringmasters makes history". Association of International Champions. Archived from the original on September 15, 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  18. ^ "Official Scoring Summary, BHS, International Quartet and Chorus Convention International, Quartet Finals, Nashville, Tennessee" (PDF). July 5, 2008. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  19. ^ "2005-Realtime". Association of International Champions. June 28, 2011. Archived from the original on September 15, 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  20. ^ "1961-Suntones". Association of International Champions. Archived from the original on September 15, 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  21. ^ "Virtual Society Awards". Barbershop Harmony Society. Archived from the original on September 25, 2020. Retrieved September 15, 2020.
  22. ^ Midtown (June 20, 2019). Spider-Man Theme. YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-11. Retrieved September 15, 2020.
  23. ^ "The Seventeen Districts of The Barbershop Harmony Society" (PDF). Barbershop Harmony Society. July 1, 2010. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  24. ^ "Home – The Cardinal District". The Cardinal District.
  25. ^ "Carolinas District of the Barbershop Harmony Society (SPEBSQSA)". Carolinas District of the Barbershop Harmony Society (SPEBSQSA).
  26. ^ "CSD HOME".
  27. ^ "Home".
  28. ^ "Evergreen District". Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  29. ^ "Far Western District – Home".
  30. ^ "The Illinois District of the Barbershop Harmony Society: A state of close harmony".
  31. ^ "Johnny Appleseed District". Johnny Appleseed District.
  32. ^ "Land O' Lakes District of the Barbershop Harmony Society".
  33. ^ "Mid-Atlantic District". Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  34. ^ "Northeastern District – Barbershop Harmony Society". Northeastern District of BHS.
  35. ^ "Ontario District of the Barbershop Harmony Society – The largest Canadian male a cappella singing organization".
  36. ^ "Pioneer District, Barbershop Harmony Society".
  37. ^ "Rocky Mountain District". Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  38. ^ Jay Holman. "Seneca Land District of the Barbershop Harmony Society – Home Page".
  39. ^ "The Southwestern District of the Barbershop Harmony Society".
  40. ^ "Sunshine District". Sunshine District.
  41. ^ "British Association of Barbershop Singers". Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  42. ^ "Barbershop Harmony Australia". Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  43. ^ "Barbershop Harmony New Zealand". Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  44. ^ "News – BinG! Barbershop in Germany". Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  45. ^ "About us: BinG! in numbers". Barbershop in Germany. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  46. ^ "HOLLAND HARMONY". Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  47. ^ "Finnish Association of Barbershop Singers ry". Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  48. ^ "Irish Association of Barbershop Singers". Irish Association of Barbershop Singers. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  49. ^ "SABS – Spanish Association of Barbershop Singers". Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  50. ^ "SNOBS – The Society Of Nordic Barbershop Singers". Archived from the original on December 15, 2018. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  51. ^ "SPATS Southern Part of Africa Tonsorial Singers". Retrieved January 14, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]