Taken from "Preserving an art form: the Barbershop Harmony Society"
For more information visit www.spebsqsa.org
What is this thing called SPEBSQSA, and why do so many people have so much fun as part of it?
As much a part of American culture as Old Glory, Mom and apple pie, barbershop quartet
singing is one of America's native art forms. It is alive today, largely through the
efforts of an organization called the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of
Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).
Though the roots of four-part harmony go back more than a century, it was not until the
near-accidental formation of the Society that barbershop quartet music was actively
The Early Years
SPEBSQSA was founded in 1938, when Tulsa tax attorney Owen C. Cash happened to meet a
fellow Tulsan, investment banker Rupert I. Hall, while both were in Kansas City, stranded
when a storm closed the airport. Meeting by chance in a hotel lobby, the men discovered
their mutual love for vocal harmony, and together they bemoaned the decline of that
all-American institution, the barbershop quartet.
Determined to stem that decline, they wrote a humorous letter to friends, stating:
"In this age of dictators and government control of everything, about the only
privilege guaranteed by the Bill of Rights not in some way supervised or directed is the
art of barbershop quartet singing. Without a doubt, we still have the right of peaceable
assembly which, we are advised by competent legal authority, includes quartet singing.
"The writers have, for a long time, thought that something should be done to
encourage the enjoyment of this last remaining vestige of human liberty. Therefore, we
have decided to hold a songfest on the roof garden of the Tulsa Club on Monday, April 11,
1938, at 6:30 p.m."
Twenty-six men attended that first rooftop meeting, and all agreed they should do it
again. Attendance at subsequent meetings multiplied rapidly; at the third gathering, more
than 150 harmonizers raised such a sound that traffic stopped on the street below. A
reporter for the Tulsa Daily World chanced to pass by the scene, sensed a good story, and
put the story on the national news wires. The lengthy name and initials, founder Cash's
way of poking fun at the New Deal's "alphabet soup" of initialed government
agencies, captured the imagination of readers coast to coast, and inquiries came pouring
The Society today
SPEBSQSA is now the world's largest all-male singing organization, with more than
34,000 singers in more than 800 chapters in the United States and Canada. Another 4,000
barbershoppers are members of affiliated organizations in Australia, Germany, Great
Britain, The Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden.
The Society is headquartered in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in a historic 1930s-era mansion on
the shores of Lake Michigan. Harmony Hall is home to the Old Songs Library, the world's
largest privately-held collection of sheet music, containing 750,000 sheets and 125,000
titles from the heyday of Tin Pan Alley. The Heritage Hall Museum of Barbershop Harmony,
also located in Harmony Hall, serves as repository for barbershop memorabilia, early
recordings, costumes, research materials and historical documents tracing the roots of the
A professional staff of 40 administers a wide range of programs and services,
- The Harmonizer, a bi-monthly magazine for members
- Digital mastering of audio and video productions
- Music publishing services, with more than 600 barbershop arrangements in print
- Convention planning for meetings attended by more than 13,000 members annually
- Harmony Marketplace, a merchandise operation that grossing more than $1 million annually
- A travelling staff of music and membership specialists who conduct numerous workshops
and clinics throughout North America
- Education programs such as Chapter Officer Training Schools,
- Directors Colleges and Harmony College, a week-long school attended by more than 600