Barbershop Harmony Society

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Barbershop Harmony Society
Barbershop Harmony Society logo.png
Official Barbershop Harmony Society logo
Background information
Also known as Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc.
Origin Tulsa, Oklahoma
Genres A cappella
Barbershop music
Years active 1938–present
Members 29,425 (March 2007)[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 are 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.

A parallel women's singing organization, Sweet Adelines International (SAI) was founded in 1945. A second women's barbershop harmony organization, Harmony, Inc., 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.[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]

In late 2004, the Society established Barbershop Harmony Society as its new "brand name", with a logo and identity program released in 2005. Although the legal name remained SPEBSQSA, Inc., the decision was controversial, as many members felt that the new name did not reflect a mission of preservation and encouragement of the style. Many members were concerned that the term "quartet" had been dropped, fearing a movement in the direction of choral singing and downplaying quartet singing.


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 an essential repertoire of 12 songs (commonly known as "polecats") that every barbershopper should know.[8] The purpose of this program is to give all barbershoppers a common repertoire so that any new quartet will have something already prepared to sing.

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]


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.


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, they are 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]

For a complete list of international champions, see List of Barbershop Harmony Society quartet champions.

Chorus champions[edit]

For a complete list of international champions, see List of chorus champions by year.
  • The Vocal Majority, based in Dallas, TX, twelve-time International Chorus Champions (1975, 1979, 1982, 1985, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2014). 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, MO, 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, eight-time International Chorus Champions (1990, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011).
  • The Westminster Chorus, a youth barbershop chorus in California started by young members of the Masters of Harmony, International Champion in 2007, 2010, and 2015.
  • The Louisville Thoroughbreds Chorus, the first 7-time International Champion chorus of the Barbershop Harmony Society, winning the Gold Medal in 1962, 1966, 1969, 1974, 1978, 1981 and 1984.

Districts of BHS [edit]

For purposes of administration (particularly of local schools and contests) the society is organized into geographical districts as follows.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Document d200703.pdf, SPEBSQSA District Membership Summary, March 2007; Membership summaries[permanent dead link]. Other totals, all for December 1: 1998, 33,764; 1999, 32,980; 2000, 32,580; 2001, 32,242; 2002, 31,966; 2003, 31,309; 2004, 30,900; 2005, 30,195; 2006, 29,227.
  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. ^ SAI and SPEBSQSA lifted their restriction a few years later during the Civil Rights movement.
  5. ^ "Preserving an art form: the Barbershop Harmony Society". Barbershop Harmony Society. November 28, 2006. Archived from the original on 7 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-19. 
  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. Retrieved 2015-08-31. 
  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. ^ "Official Scoring Summary, BHS, International, Quartet Finals, Las Vegas, Nevada, July 5, 2014" (PDF). Barbershop Harmony Society. July 5, 2014. Retrieved July 7, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Official Scoring Summary, BHS, MBNA America Collegiate Barbershop Quartet Contest International, Quartet Finals, Indianapolis, Indiana" (PDF). Barbershop Harmony Society. July 8, 2006. Retrieved 14 September 2016. 
  14. ^ "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. 
  15. ^ "Ringmasters makes history". Association of International Champions. Retrieved September 14, 2016. 
  16. ^ "Official Scoring Summary, BHS, International Quartet and Chorus Convention International, Quartet Finals, Nashville, Tennessee" (PDF). July 5, 2008. Retrieved September 14, 2016. 
  17. ^ "2005-Realtime". Association of International Champions. June 28, 2011. Retrieved September 14, 2016. 
  18. ^ "1961-Suntones". Association of International Champions. Retrieved September 14, 2016. 
  19. ^ "Home – The Cardinal District". The Cardinal District. 
  20. ^ "Carolinas District of the Barbershop Harmony Society (SPEBSQSA)". Carolinas District of the Barbershop Harmony Society (SPEBSQSA). 
  21. ^ "CSD HOME". 
  22. ^ "Home". 
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Far Western District – Home". 
  25. ^ "The Illinois District of the Barbershop Harmony Society: A state of close harmony!". 
  26. ^ "Johnny Appleseed District". Johnny Appleseed District. 
  27. ^ "Land O' Lakes District of the Barbershop Harmony Society". 
  28. ^ "Northeastern District – Barbershop Harmony Society". Northeastern District of BHS. 
  29. ^ "Ontario District of the Barbershop Harmony Society – The largest Canadian male a cappella singing organization". 
  30. ^ "Pioneer District, Barbershop Harmony Society". 
  31. ^
  32. ^ Jay Holman. "Seneca Land District of the Barbershop Harmony Society – Home Page". 
  33. ^ "The Southwestern District of the Barbershop Harmony Society". 
  34. ^ "Sunshine District". Sunshine District. 
  35. ^ "British Association of Barbershop Singers, mens, male, choirs, choruses, quartets, education, teaching, youth, young, a capella, acapella, acappella, singing, songs, close harmony, singbarbershop, uk". Retrieved 2016-01-14. 
  36. ^ "Barbershop Harmony Australia". Retrieved 2016-01-14. 
  37. ^ "Barbershop Harmony New Zealand". Retrieved 2016-01-14. 
  38. ^ "News – BinG! Barbershop in Germany". Retrieved 2016-01-14. 
  39. ^ "HOLLAND HARMONY". Retrieved 2016-01-14. 
  40. ^ "Finnish Association of Barbershop Singers ry". Retrieved 2016-01-14. 
  41. ^ "Irish Association of Barbershop Singers". Irish Association of Barbershop Singers. Retrieved 2016-01-14. 
  42. ^ "SABS – Spanish Association of Barbershop Singers". Retrieved 2016-01-14. 
  43. ^ "SNOBS – The Society Of Nordic Barbershop Singers". Retrieved 2016-01-14. 
  44. ^ "SPATS Southern Part of Africa Tonsorial Singers". Retrieved 2016-01-14. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]