the basics

According to this Wikipedia page, barbershop vocal harmony, as codified during the barbershop revival era (1930s–present), is a style of a cappella, or unaccompanied vocal music, characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture. Each of the four parts has its own role: generally, the lead sings the melody, the tenor harmonizes above the melody, the bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completes the chord, usually below the lead. The melody is not usually sung by the tenor or baritone, except for an infrequent note or two to avoid awkward voice leading, in tags or codas, or when some appropriate embellishment can be created. Occasional passages may be sung by fewer than four voice parts.However, I have my own opinion, of course. (Otherwise, this wouldn’t be a blog.)

To me, the consummate barbershop song is “Sweet Adeline”. And, since I have been doing a fare amount of research, singing lead, and singing Polecats, one of which is “Sweet Adeline” as transcribed by our very own SPEBSQSA (or, Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc.), this song is referred to in many other barbershop songs. (As a matter of fact, I find that if you want to define a song as being “barbershop”, the only thing that trumps the close harmony styled is referring to Sweet Adeline, or…it’s a close second.) So, for my money, this style of singing is the original style and birth of barbershop. It’s also the style I like the most…I call it holler and echo. I strongly believe that it came from slaves as they tried to communicate with each other on the plantations, before emancipation. These communications easily evolved into song. (Just as martial arts evolve in Communist China. But, I am certainly no expert on that.) Anyway, what sorta killed this beautiful style, in my opinion, is that as the popularity grew of some of the groups, singing in parlors and other larger venues, so did the egos of the leads. As the other parts usually seem to require a bit more skill, they also started arranging in such a way as to unify the parts with less and less of the lead/echo style. Very sad, in my opinion. I find this style most beautiful and rarely heard with any real intention. But, clearly it is part of the influence of the arranging.


The barbers’ poles and the reasons for their colors

According to this website, the history of the barber pole is intertwined with the history of barbers and their bloodletting practices. Patients would tightly grasp a rod or staff tightly so their veins would show, and the barbers would cut open their arms and bleed them until they fainted. Later, when leech therapy became popular (they allowed for more controlled bleeding), leeches were applied directly to the vein areas.

After the procedure, the barbers “washed” the bandages which were hung outside on a pole to dry, and to advertise the therapeutic specialties offered in the barbershop. Flapping in the wind, the long strips of bandages would twist around the pole in the spiral pattern we now associate with barbers.

This early barber pole was simply a wooden post topped by a brass leech basin. Later the basin was replaced by a ball and painted poles of red and white spirals took the place of the pole with the bloodstained bandages, and these poles became permanent outdoor fixtures.

In fact, after the formation of the United Barber Surgeon’s Company in England, barbers were required to display blue and white poles, and surgeons, red ones. In America, however, many of the barber poles were painted red, white and blue.

There are several interpretations for the colors of the barber pole. One is that red represented blood and white, the bandages. Another interpretation says red and blue respectively stood for arterial and venous blood, and white was for the bandages. A third view suggests that the spiral pattern represents a white bandage wrapped around a bloody arm. The bowls represented the basin of leeches as well as the blood-collection bowl.

How to Increase Your Lung Capacity to “Get Fit Guy” (see this link) and fortunately since it’s so crucial for athletes to have a high oxygen capacity, there’s been a lot of research done on how to increase oxygen capacity as quickly as possible. It turns out that performing very hard exercise for 3-5 minutes, separated by complete recovery between each hard effort, is a perfect way to increase oxygen capacity. Ideally, if you’re serious about improving your oxygen capacity, you should do these very hard exercises three or more times in a single workout, and try to do at least two of these type of workouts per week.

He also states that “oxygen capacity is a very important component of fitness” and that “there’s a direct link between a higher oxygen capacity, and reduced risk of death!”

Conflict and its influence on harmony

It’s impossible to talk about the history of Barbershop without talking about race. Black and White, to be more specific. And to be even more specific, racism in America. However, some of my research has shown that it’s an interesting issue that is worth a closer look.

My personal opinion is that the white male quartets of the day (early 1900’s) had the power of technology and dollars behind them. (Edison Records, the recording studios, microphones, electricity…you get the point.) Also, my research can be somewhat limited, especially since it virtually all done on-line. I have some “theories”, however, about what may have been going on during this evolution of the Barbershop style, and will try to express them, here.

First of all, there must have been a real strife going on between these musicians of the day, as with the population at large, since the end of slavery. And, it also seems that some of these “Negro” quartets were a real throne in the side of the whites in that they introduce a much freer form. Scot Joplin was playing freely on the piano, and Dixieland music was hitting the seen. (Ragtime, and Dixieland, I believe, were considered, mostly, to be of African-American influence.) The produced and distributed White male quartets, (like Haydn, Edison and Columbia, and not likely considered Barbershop by some of longstanding members, due to some of the lyrics, accompaniment, and several other factors, mainly that the society seems to subscribe to a very high ethical standard), were much stiffer. The end result was better music for both groups, due to competition, and positive musical influences that were able to cross the divide.

Secondly, there is plenty of negative comments that can be made about race and music. I am trying here, to pierce through the obvious for a closer look at what was really going on. If this approach or any comments offends anyone, I must apologize. I am a bit of a Philistine, for sure. There is no malicious intent here, you should know.

For starters, I have discovered a amazing “quartette”, in my perusals on-line: the “Norfolk Jubilee Quartette”. And, this image:

and these amazingly beautiful recordings:

Didn’t it Rain – Norfolk Jubilee Quartet

Standing by the Bedside of a Neighbor – Norfolk Jubilee Singers

What’s The Matter Now – Monarch Jazz/Jubilee Quartet of Norfolk

Four Or Five Times – Monarch Jazz/Jubilee Quartet of Norfolk

provide a bit of insight.

According to Wikipedia, Jubilee quartets were popular African-American religious musical groups in the first half of the 20th century. The name derives from the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a group of male singers organized by students at Fisk University in 1871 to sing Negro spirituals, which had typically been sung by mixed choirs before then. Students at other historically black schools, such as Hampton Institute, Tuskegee Institute and Wilberforce University, followed suit.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers (still active, today) first organized to tour and raise funds for college. Their early repertoire consisted mostly of traditional spirituals, but included some Stephen Foster songs. The original group toured along the Underground Railroad path in the United States, as well as performing in England and Europe. Later nineteenth-century groups also toured in Europe. (Here’s one song where you can here that close harmony.)

File:Stephen Foster.jpgTo further emphasize the point of cross-influence, Stephen Collins Foster (July 4, 1826 – January 13, 1864), known as the “father of American music“, was an American songwriter primarily known for his parlor and minstrel music. Foster wrote over 200 songs; among his best-known are “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “Old Folks at Home,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” “Old Black Joe,” and “Beautiful Dreamer.” Many of his compositions remain popular more than 150 years after he wrote them. you can clearly see cross influence, here. And, that there was something very positive going on, along with the negative…just as with all generations.

The early jubilee quartets featured close harmonies, (sound familiar?) formal arrangements and a “flatfooted” style of singing that emphasized restrained musical expression and technique derived from Western musical traditions. Early quartets reinforced their respectable image by adopting uniforms that a university glee club might wear and discouraging improvisation.

Possibly ground zero, however, for the aforementioned “battle of the races” among these musicians may be the song, “Way Down Yonder in the Corn Field“. Endless research can be done on it, on-line. The lyrics in question go, “Some  folks say that a crow don’t steal”. My personal “theory” is that it was originally written with the word “Preacher” inserted where the word “Crow” is used in this version. However, the more produced version inserts the work “Nigger”, (i.e., the “N” word.)

Remember, these were much different times. (Hopefully, that goes without saying.) Again, to theorize, my guess is that the Black (or, African-American, or Negro, or Afro-American) singers were not meaning too much harm. (Especially considering the word “Preacher” is not a racially loaded word.) But, once some of the “God-fearing” White (or Euro-American) singers caught wind of it, the arrangers took over to advertise their righteousness by inserting the “N” word instead, seemingly offended by any suggestion that a Preacher might steal. Anyway, I love this song and believe it should be sung with the word “Preacher” used. It’s just way more fun that way, and seems more authentic to me…I mean, versus using the word Crow, (or the “N” word, of course.)

The website, “AFRICAN AMERICAN SECULAR SLAVE SONGS“, may give the best idea about some of these lyrics, and of the mentioned song, in particular. It states:

“Raise A Ruckus Tonight” and most of the other songs included in Thomas W Talley’s 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes are probably from the 19th century or even earlier. Here’s a passage from that book:

“A few of the Rhymes bear the mark of a somewhat recent date in composition. The majority of them, however, were sung by Negro fathers and mothers in the dark days of American slavery to their children…The little songs were similar in structure to the Jubilee Songs, also of Negro Folk origin.”

[page 229; Kennikat edition, 1964]


“Jubilee songs” is an earlier referent for “spirituals”.

Somewhat off topic, I believe that the first verse given above in that version of “Raise A Rucus Tonight” is the source for the African American children’s rhyme “Ten Little Angels” (Ten little angels dressed in white/tryin’ to get to heaven by the tail of a kite/but the kite string broke/and one of them fell/instead of going to heaven she when to __/nine little angels etc.)

RAISE A RUKUS (Version #2)
Why don’t you come along,
Little children come along,
While the moon is shining bright;
Get on board,
Down by the river shore,
We’re gonna raise a rukus tonight!

Old Aunt Dinah went to town,
(Raise a rukus tonight!)
Ridin’ a billy-goat, leadin’ a hound,
(Raise a rukus tonight!)
Hound dog barked, billy-goat jumped,
(Raise a rukus tonight!)
Threw Aunt Dinah on her rump.
(Raise a rukus tonight!)


Some folks says that the preacher won’t steal,
(Raise a rukus tonight!)
But, I caught two in my cornfield;
(Raise a rukus tonight!)
One had a shovel and one had a hoe,
(Raise a rukus tonight!)
And they were digging up potatoes by the row.
(Raise a rukus tonight!)


Way down yonder in Chitlin’ Switch,
(Raise a rukus tonight!)
Bullfrog jumped from ditch to ditch,
(Raise a rukus tonight!)
Bullfrog jumped from the bottom of the well,
(Raise a rukus tonight!)
Swore, by God, he jumped from Hell.
(Raise a rukus tonight!)

-linear notes:1956 album Josh At Midnight , Josh White and Sam Gary
(Hat Tip to BrooklynJay who posted those lyrics on (January 7, 2011)

Click for information about African American singer, guitarist, songwriter, actor, and civil rights activist Josh White.

This version is made up of floaters (verses that are found in other songs). The lines in the Chitlin Switch verse that mention the bull frog jumping from ditch to ditch, and jumping from the bottom of a well marks this verse as part of the very large “Frog in a well” family of songs. Among those song are “Frog Went A Courting”, “Keemo Kimo” and “King Kong Kitchie”. It’s my position that the contemporary song and hand clap rhyme “Down By The Banks Of The Hanky Panky” is an off-shoot of the “Frog In The Well” family.

Hat to Tip BrooklynJay for this information which is excerpted from this January 9, 2011 post:

Adleline origin, as in “Sweet Adeline”

Accoring to Joe Kane of the Alexandria Harmonizers and a New Dixie QT,TBNL, the song was named after a turn-of-the (19th-to-20th) century Italian opera diva, who appeared in and had a large following in NYC,
where most lyricists and music publishers of the time were located. Her name was Adelina Patti.

Read this in several places/barbershop histories (see e.g. “Four Parts No
Waiting” by Gage Averill; Oxford University Press 2003, ISBN# 0-19-511672-0, p. 70.) According to Averill, the tune was composed by Henry Armstrong in a Boston area boxing camp in 1896, but it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that Armstrong commissioned lyrics for it. The first title was “Sweet Rosalie,” changed by lyricist Richard Gerard to “Sweet Adeline” upon seeing a sign for an Adelina Patti performance, and recognizing the
inherent possibilities for rhyme with the existing phrase “for you I pine.”

So yes, “Adeline” was a real person, but she wasn’t actually the subject or love interest of this sentimental and nostalgic song – her name just rhymed where a rhyme was needed.

Warren “Buzz” Haeger – “Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie”.

According to this link, Warren “Buzz” Haeger, arranger for “Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie”, received his BS in Engineering from Purdue University in 1950 and his MS in Mechanical Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1952, after which he started his own company as an industrial real estate broker and has served as such until August of 2007. (He died on Nov. 3, 2007 in Downers Grove, and was from Oak Brook, Ill.) Being an avid baseball player, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran/ WWII, barbershop singer, arranger, director, coach, contest judge, MC, guitarist and quartet champion, he has appeared in over 1000 shows throughout his career. Having perfect pitch as a professional musician, he always “heard” the entire arrangement before putting it to paper, which also aided him in writing over 300 barbershop and modern vocal arrangements. He was named to the Barbershop Hall of Fame in 2005 and received the 2006 Association of International Champions President’s Award for his work throughout his life.

Sound clips

Ajax commercial composed by Joe Hines in 1948 for Colgate-Palmolive.

The Boston Common Barbershop Quartet One of the top three quartets ever! Here they sing “Little Girl” composed by Mac Huff and Norman Starks (of Polecat fame – “Sweet and Lovely”)

The Auctioneer” by Leroy VanDyke and Buddy Black sung by Ralph Eichler. The song is performed by Bluegrass Student Union from Louisville, 1978 champions of the Barbershop Harmony Society.

More quartetting

Here’s an idea you can bring to your chapter:

For me, the “polecat” “Sweet Adeline” is the consummate barbershop song. (It is even sung about in a separate song in the same book: “Down Our Way“, when we sing: “And that old gang of mine, They sang “Sweet Adeline”… Whoever she was..she must have been well liked. (Hmmm? Sounds like a research project.) It’s short and sweet, and relatively easy to sing. The chords are simply beautiful. The parts make sense to me in that there’s nothing too crazy going on. It has all the elements needed for your quartet. Mainly: it is a pleasure to sing, and a pleasure to hear.

So, why not ask your director to insert a few of these tunes into your rehearsals, if not your programs? The end result will be more quartetting…which is a good thing for barbershop, as a whole. I say, start your own quartette book that has some basic songs, like the polecats. Usually one-pagers that are easy to learn, remember, and sound good. There are tons of them out their. You can try more difficult songs to fall back on, or to work on as you master the simple ones. (And save the really tough ones for the chorus. This would be a great way to keep things hopping, if you know what I mean.)

In any case, I will be working on a book for my chapter, and have already started.

Have Fun!

With only a short time as a member of the Marin Chapter, my enjoyment level has only escalated with each “rehearsal”. (The reason for the quotations is that it really doesn’t feel like rehearsal. It’s too much fun, just ringing chords.) My perception of what Barbershop is all about has changed drastically since just a couple of months ago. Now, I can hardly wait ’til I start singing with the guys, again. And, I do lots of practicing. So much so, that I am now looking for a new place to live. (Although I try to be very quiet while listening to tracks, I guess I belt out a bit too often.) In any case, it is time for a change. My point here is, I am having fun! There is a fellow member here in town that I duet with,  twice a week, so, I am probably getting in more time than most. (We are focusing on the Polecats.) We are even getting some feedback from folks who are in  earshot and it’s mostly good, with some  helpful criticism. Anyway, the guys are mostly older, (and I’m no spring chicken, at 52) but all are young at heart…and it is starting to rub off.

Part of the culture is telling one liners. So, men raze one and other at every chance and try to poke some fun. It’s great camaraderie and team work. You really have to listen to the other voices and work together like nothing I’ve ever been involved with to make it work. All in all I would say it been one of the nicest things I’ve done for myself iin a long time.

“Wait ‘Till the Sun Shines, Nellie”- 1905, lyrics by Andrew B. Sterling

According to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Lyricist Andrew B. Sterling (“Wait ‘Till the Sun Shines, Nellie”) was born in New York City on August 26, 1874. After graduating from high school, he began writing songs and special material for vaudeville acts. In 1898, he met composer Harry Von Tilzer and the two began a songwriting partnership that would last three decades.

Other than von Tilzer, Sterling collaborated with Frederick Allen Mills, James Hanley, Raymond Sterling, M.K. Jerome, Ray Henderson, Bernie Grossman, Edward Moran and Bartley Costello.

Highlights from the Sterling catalog include “My Old New Hampshire Home”, “Strike Up the Band, Here Comes a Sailor”, “Hell, Ma Baby”, “Wait till the Sun Shines, Nellie”, “On a Sunday Afternoon”, “When My Baby Smiles at Me”, “Meet Me in St. Louis”, “Under the Anheuser Bush”, “Last Night Was the End of the World”, “in the Evening by the Moonlight”, “What You Gonna Do When the Rent Comes “Round”, “All the Boys Love Mary”, “All Aboard for Dreamland”, “Take Me Back to New York Time”, “Goodbye Boys” and “On the Old Fall River Line.”

Andrew Sterling died in Stamford Connecticut on August 11, 1955.

effects of listening to barbershop harmonies

For years, mothers have been strapping headphones to their bellies to play Barbershop harmonies to their unborn children.  The reason – reports that these tunes help in brain development; and what mother wouldn’t want their child to have a leg up on their way to becoming a genius?

After a 1993 study showed increased test scores in participants that listened to Barbershop before taking IQ tests, the term “Barbershop Effect” made its way into the American lexicon. Researchers at the University of North Texas had similar results with common dolphin sounds and Henry Kissinger audios.

Since then, more and more people have bought into the idea that listening to Barbershop harmonies can have positive cognitive effects.  Spawning the launch of an entire line of “Barbershop Effect” CDs for newborns, babies, adults, and even car travel.

Floyd Connett – Polecat arranger

As I look through my Barberpole Cat book, I see Floyd’s name all over it. He’s listed as arranger for: “My Wild Irish Rose”; “Down Our Way”; “Honey/Little ‘Lize – Medley”; “Sweet, Sweet Roses of Morn”; and “Shine on Me”. According to this website,

Floyd Connett
Born:  April 3, 1915, in Peoria.
Died:  Sept. 21, 1963, in Peoria.
Burial: Park View Cemetery, Peoria.
Chorus Director: 1953-1957

Floyd Connett became Bloomington’s (Sound of Illinois ) second director in 1953.

A real-life barber in Peoria, Illinois, Floyd took up the profession after attending Peoria Barber College and marrying Maxine Talbot in 1937.  They had a daughter, Linda (Keutzer), and a son, Steve, and the family often sang together.  “Any one of the Connett Quartet sings any part, except me,” said Floyd in his barber shop resume.  “The kids says, ‘You just haven’t got it, Dad!’”

In 1953, Floyd had been directing the Peoria Belles Sweet Adelines chorus for five years.  In just three years, he took the Bloomington chorus to the state title, which qualified the Kountry Kernels (the name adopted in 1956) for the international competition in Los Angeles in 1957.  Connett  and the chorus, dressed in bib overalls, straw hats, red bandanas and work boots, placed third, its highest finish ever.

At the contest, Floyd’s prowess (he was certified judge in all five contest categories) made him a popular coach for many quartets who sought his help.  It also was a showcase for Floyd, who was hired that same year to be the Society’s first field representative.  He traveled the country by car, visiting chapters and teaching the craft of blending and harmonizing with thousands of members.  In 1961, he left that job to become national educational director of Sweet Adelines.

Floyd was an accomplished arranger, with many of his works still among those published by the Society.  Most of the songs performed by Bloomington in the Fifties and early Sixties were Connett arrangements.  He coached many quartets on their way to winning gold medals, and he also worked with The Buffalo Bills as the quartet prepared for its role in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man on Broadway.

Introduced to the barber shop chord by John Hanson, Bloomington’s first director, Floyd acknowledged  how thankful he was to have served his apprenticeship under John.  A Hanson arrangement of My Hometown, updated by Floyd, became a successful contest tune for the Kountry Kernels.

The Tuesday prior to the 1963 state convention, Floyd was coaching the Bloomington chorus (directed by his protégé, Glenn Perdue) as it prepared for the competition the coming weekend.  It was the following Saturday, Sept. 21, while pulling weeds at his barber shop property, he succumbed to a heart attack at age 48.

On that Tuesday, Floyd was reminiscing with Charlie Driver and Harold Coffman about his first night as Bloomington director.  He recalls that he came over “to really show the boys his stuff.”  He taught the chorus a song by rote by 9 p.m. and was ready to add the tag.  But President Coffman interrupted and said it was time for a break.  Floyd protested but Harold insisted.  All through the business meeting, Connett said he was fuming.  “Who’s this guy Coffman who thinks he can tell me what to do?” he muttered to himself.  He grew more perturbed when a couple of quartets sang.  About 9:30, Harold turned to Floyd and said: “Now it’s all yours.  How about teaching us that tag?”

Also, according to this page, During the Society’s first two decades our members had no common repertoire—different choruses and quartets sang different songs, or the same songs in different arrangements. Many men could sing common arrangements of “Coney Island Baby” or “Shine on Me” or “After Dark,” but that was about it. Connett’s first collection of songs intended for every barbershopper, Just Plain Barbershop, provided a common repertoire for the first time, in the late 1950s. But more was to come. In 1971, Connett, with two other Society leaders, the legendary Mac Huff and then-president Ralph Ribble, formulated the first Barberpole Cat program, originally six songs. Currently there are 12 songs in the Barberpole Cat collection. All five of Connett’s arrangements are in the key of B-flat. The legacy of one of our Society’s greatest figures, Floyd Connett, lives on every time barbershoppers harmonize these songs and feel the close fellowship they bring.

—Tom Pearce, Richmond, Virginia, Chapter, adapted from Heritage of Harmony Songbook, Burt Szabo, Editor.

Big D Bulletin, October 1998, Grant Carson, Editor

the way-back machine: Shannon Quartet

According to Wikipedia, Lewis James (July 29, 1892 – February 19, 1959) was a vocalist and among the most active of recording artists in the United States from 1917 through much of the 1930s.[1] He was a member of the The Shannon Four (Franklyn Baur, Lewis James, Elliott Shaw and Wilfred Glenn), The Revelers, and The Criterion Trio. He had many Top Ten hits during that time, including “My Baby Boy“, “Till We Meet Again“, “What’ll I Do“, and “Pal of My Cradle Days“, among others.[2] He died in 1959.[3]

Lewis James was born in Dexter, Michigan. He recorded extensively as a soloist, duet partner, and quartet lead singer. His first recording with the Shannon Four (aka the Shannon Quartet) was the World War I chestnut, “All Aboard For Home Sweet Home.” Like many of his colleagues, he proved exceedingly versatile in recording love ballads, hymns, children’s songs, and the more sophisticated early jazz harmonies of the Revelers with whom he made several successful European tours. The Shannon Four, Revelers, Crescent Trio, and Merrymakers consisted mostly of the same singers, with occasional substitutes. His sweet melodic tenor is immortalized on Victor, Columbia, and Edison recordings, mostly from 1917 through 1927.

Here is a famous Victor recording the Revelers in an early film short, performing “Mine,” “Dinah” and “No Foolin’.” Franklyn Baur (seated, far left), Wilfred Glenn (standing, far right), Lewis James (seated center with mustache), Eilliot Shaw (standing behind piano), accompanied by Frank J. Black, piano. The Revelers were the inspiration for the Comedian Harmonists.

Here are some recordings:

America The Beautiful
In The Evening By The Moonlight 1926
Jingle Bells 1925
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Let Me Call You Sweetheart (with noise)
Maggie Murphy’s Home
On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away
On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away (youtube junk)
Rainbow 1926
Red Wing
Sidewalks Of New York
Stars Of The Summer Night
Where The Silvery Colorado Wends Its Way

Helen Clark and the Shannon Quartet – Lulaby 1918 (Edison Cylinder)

Shannon Four – I May Be Gone for a Long, Long Time 1917 Victor-18333

Shannon Four – There’s a Service Flag Flying at Our House 1918 Victor-18434

Shannon Four – Tom, Dick and Harry and Jack (Hurry Back) 1918 Victor-18438


WJZ’s first live entertainment occurred when the Shannon Quartet performed during October, 1921.

Here are two favorites by The Revelers:

The Blue Room The Revelers – Victor 20082 – The Blue Room 1926
Valencia The Revelers – Victor 20082 – Valencia 1926

Chauncey Olcott – Polecat: “My Wild Irish Rose”, Words and Music, 1899


According to this blog, in September 1902, Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, featured an article called Pets of Popular Players, which included a bit on Chauncey and one of his his dogs.

The article states: If “laughter is G_d’s greatest gift to man,” then Mr. Chauncey Olcott and his big dog “Prince” are certainly a gifted pair. When they laugh together, if the world doesn’t laugh with them, “it is not to laugh” and the world is a sorry place. “Prince” and Mr. Olcott are co-stars between whom there is absolutely no professional jealousy. They even “dress together,” and that is saying a most marvelous thing. A dressing room may be ever so spacious, but it is never quite large enough to hold the dignity of a star, and to crowd that dignity — well, I guess not!

According to Wikipedia, born in Buffalo, New York, in the early years of his career Olcott sang in minstrel shows and Lillian Russell played a major role in helping make him a Broadway star.[2] Amongst his songwriting accomplishments, Olcott wrote and composed the song “My Wild Irish Rose” for his production of A Romance of Athlone in 1899. Olcott also wrote the lyrics to “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” for his production of The Isle O’ Dreams in 1912.

He retired to Monte Carlo and died there of Pernicious anemia in 1932. His body was brought home and interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx.

His life story was told in the 1947 Warner Bros. motion picture My Wild Irish Rose starring Dennis Morgan as Olcott.

In 1970, Olcott was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

History of Barbershop

Here is a one of the best written histories of barbershop singing I have come across, by David Krause and David Wright. It attempts to trace the roots and the evolution of barbershop harmony from well before its actual beginnings up to the present. It tries to answer these questions: What were the tides of history which spawned the birth of the barbershop quartet, and what environment allowed this style of music to flourish? What were its musical forerunners? What are its defining characteristics? What other types of music were fostered contemporaneously, and how did they influence the growth of quartet singing? Which styles are similar, and how are they similar? How did the term “barbershop” arise? How long did the historical era of the barbershop quartet last? What other kinds of music sprang forth from it? Why did the style eventually need preservation? How was SPEBSQSA formed, and how did it become a national movement? What other organizations have joined the cause? How have they coped with the task of preservation? Are current day efforts still on course in preserving the style? How has the style changed since the Society was formed?

SPEBSQSA (Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America)

According to this website, in the nineteenth century the art of personal self-expression through singing came to include an American form called “barbershop.” Music historians assert that in the 1880s and 1890s African Americans, vocalizing in spirituals, folk songs, and popular songs, generated the new style, consisting of unaccompanied, four-part, close-harmony singing. White minstrel singers adopted the style, and in the early days of the recording industry, white quartets’ performances were recorded and sold. “Old-fashioned standards” included familiar songs such as “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” “Hello, My Baby,” and “Sweet Adeline.” Very popular in the first decades of the 1900s, barbershop quartet singing faded into obscurity in the 1920s.

In spring 1938 two Tulsans, Rupert I. Hall, an investments manager, and O. C. Cash, a tax attorney, decided to gather a few other interested individuals to revive barbershop harmony. Twenty-six attended an April 11 meeting at the Hotel Tulsa. Three weeks later a now-weekly meeting drew more than one hundred, and publicity fostered an informal organization, humorously called the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America. An Oklahoma City chapter began in July of that year, followed by groups in Kansas City, St. Louis, and four other towns.

In 1939 a “national convention” at Tulsa Central High School drew 150 delegates, comprising fifty quartets from seventeen cities in ten states. The Bartlesville Barflies won the quartet competition with a repertoire including a rendition of “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.” At the second convention, held at the New York World’s Fair in 1940, the Flat Foot Four (Oklahoma City policemen) bested two hundred quartets to capture the championship. As the popular movement continued to spread, eventually the group formally organized, with officers, charters, and bylaws. Oklahoma towns hosting chapters have included Tulsa (Founders Chapter, 1938), Oklahoma City (OK Chorale, 1938), and Enid (Chisholm Trail Chorus, 1947).

Now headquartered in Kenosha, Wisconsin, SPEBSQSA continues to promote barbershop singing. Barbershop’s musical repertoire now includes thousands of traditional and modern songs performed by quartets and chorales. The organization provides members with customary and new musical arrangements, vocal training, and advice on quartet and chorale organization. The society has more than forty thousand members throughout all fifty states and in Europe and Australia, and the annual competition is international. Formerly part of the Central States District, since 1949 Oklahoma has been part of a Southwest District, with Texas, Louisiana, and part of New Mexico and Arkansas. A Southwestern District hall of fame was established in Houston in 1987, and since 1988 the Wisconsin headquarters has housed a Heritage Hall Museum of Barbershop Harmony. Music historian J. Terry Gates characterizes the significance of barbershopping as “the last extant example in American culture of the ancient tradition of secular vocal parlor musics.”

The Sweet Adelines International, a collateral singing group, was established in Tulsa in July 1945 by Edna Mae Anderson. She and other wives of SPEBSQSA members met at the Hotel Tulsa to establish women’s quartets. This movement’s success paralleled that of the men’s, and at the first national convention, held in 1947 in Tulsa, quartets competed and members established a national organization. In four years there were fifteen hundred women in thirty-five chapters of Sweet Adelines in fourteen states. Tulsa remains the headquarters of Sweet Adelines International, with thirty thousand members in the United States and other nations.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lynn Abbott, “‘Play that Barber Shop Chord’: A Case for the African-American Origin of Barbershop Harmony,” American Music (Fall 1992). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 11 and 15 September 1938, 14 August 1940, 14 November 1945, and 22 June 1947. James E. Henry, “The Origins of Barbershop Harmony” (Ph.D. diss., Washington University, 2000). Dean Snyder, “From the Inside A Descriptive View of SPEBSQSA,” in Max Kaplan, ed., Barbershopping: Musical and Social Harmony (Madison, N. J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1993).

Dianna Everett

© Oklahoma Historical Society

Lucy’s Showbiz Swan Song – Aired Monday 9:00 PM Dec 22, 1952 on CBS Season 2 Episode 17 her pregnancy, Lucy wants to appear in Ricky’s Gay Nineties revue at the Tropicana. After a disastrous audition, Lucy disguises herself and sneaks into the barbershop quartet number, and then proceeds to ruin it. Lucy asked Ricky if she could be part of the show. Ricky of course say no. She told him that it would be her last time that she would ever do it because now that she’s an mother, she wont be back in public. This as her last good bye…which made Ricky thrilled. When Ricky, Ethel, and Fred decided to do a barbershop quartet with Lucy singing badly, they hire George Watson to sing with them. Unfortunately, Lucy has something up her sleeve. She starts to sing as well. However the others try to put shaving cream in her mouth to keep her quiet. But, she finally did sing. If you look closely enough during Lucy and Ethel’s song and dance you will see Lucille Ball pulling the string on her bloomers and they drop on cue. The sketch showing Pepito the Clown and the Christmas tag scene from the previous year were edited in because the show was running too short. William Frawley was the first singer to record “Carolina In The Morning”.In the movie, Monster in Law, when Jennifer Lopez is flipping through the channels on her television, she stops at the barber shop number in this episode. Music performed on this episode included “Carolina in the Morning”, “Strolling Through the Park”, “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”, “Goodnight Ladies”, and “Sweet Adeline”.

Here’s just the scene.

Here’s another full episode about barbershop. (Bad singing, though…and not until the end. However, lots of barbershop singing references throughout. Very entertaining.)

Amazing recordings: LHS Quartet 1963

The Boys Quartet of Lutheran High School in Los Angeles. Directed by B. Wayne Bisbee.
The recording was made in the spring of 1963 at the High School.

I found that listening to the entire session really had an impact. Try to, if you are able, in order to experience the true beauty of these recordings. (It may grown on you, as it progresses.) Obviously, some of them are spirituals. But, it moves into a more secular sound and some built in humor (or irony). This is the whole session. Sounds great with headphones, if you are able.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Creator Spirit
Rejoice In the Lord Always
My Evaline
Way Down Yonder in the Corn Field
Mister Moon
My Coney Island Babe
Müde bin ich geh zur Ruh (Here is the story of this song’s origin. Quite fascinating.)

The Musicale, Barber Shop, Trenton Falls, New York (1866) – Thomas Hicks (American 1823-1890)

According to this website, “In nineteenth-century painting, African Americans are often associated with music and dance. (See Christian Mayr’s Kitchen Ball at White Sulphur Springs, Virginia, also in the Museum’s collection.) In this painting Thomas Hicks depicts an impromptu concert in the barbershop of a summer resort in upstate New York. Occupying a separate building on the hotel grounds, the shop was a male preserve, women by custom keeping a respectful distance. The dignified man frozen in mid-song is the hotel’s barber, William Brister. Among the accompanying musicians is a black fiddler who, like the barber, is rendered with none of the usual racial stereotyping. Even so, it is obvious the black men are not guests but employees of the hotel. It is only their musical talent that justifies their prominence in the picture.”  (Click here to get a closer look.)

not for the faint of heart

According to this website (not for the faint of heart, or under 18 years old/minors), for centuries the practice of removing stones, or lithotomy, was looked down upon by the medical profession as a trade best left to traveling barber-surgeons, who included in their resume other minor surgical procedures such as dental extractions, bloodletting, abscess drainage, and fracture repair. Death was certain without intervention and the chance of survival from lithotomy was about 10 per cent, so physicians avoided taking on this challenge. Dr. Sydenham commented, “The patient suffers until he is finally consumed by both age and illness, and the poor man is happy to die.”

How Did Barbershop Begin?

According to this link, in the USA barbershop style is first associated with black southern quartets of the 1870s, and every shaving parlour seemed to have its own. During the early 1900s barbershop quartets were singing for fun and professionally on both sides of the Atlantic. Radio prompted a shift in American popular music as writers turned out sophisticated melodies for professional singers. These songs did not adapt well to impromptu harmonization. However, radio quartets kept close harmony singing popular with amateurs, and it was this group who were ready for the revival.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Tuesday 5 June 1660

A-bed late. In the morning my Lord went on shore with the Vice- Admiral a-fishing, and at dinner returned.

In the afternoon I played at ninepins with my Lord, and when he went in again I got him to sign my accounts for 115l., and so upon my private balance I find myself confirmed in my estimation that I am worth 100l..

In the evening in my cabin a great while getting the song without book, “Help, help Divinity, &c.”

After supper my Lord called for the lieutenant’s cittern, and with two candlesticks with money in them for symballs, we made barber’s music,1 with which my Lord was well pleased.

So to bed.

  1. In the “Notices of Popular Histories,” printed for the Percy Society, there is a curious woodcut representing the interior of a barber’s shop, in which, according to the old custom, the person waiting to be shaved is playing on the “ghittern” till his turn arrives. Decker also mentions a “barber’s cittern,” for every serving-man to play upon. This is no doubt “the barber’s music” with which Lord Sandwich entertained himself. — B.

This and this make further reference or the origins.

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