Sometime in the 1976-77 school year, I was introduced to the sound of barbershop harmony. In part, it is a melody line surrounded by three harmony parts – tenor, baritone and bass. Having been raised on acapella singing, this was a natural fit for my ears.
After joining the “society” in 1978, I had heard of a man named Owen Clifton “OC” Cash who founded the Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in the United States. The name was eventually changed, replacing the word Propagation with Encouragement and United States with America. The acronym SPEBSQSA was a joke, mocking the naming of many programs under the WPA, the government organization which helped carry out public works projects under FDR’s New Deal. But enough of that.
OC Cash wanted to preserve a period in American history where the songs were as sweet as the maple and sweet gum trees in Oklahoma, the birthplace of our Society. Songs like “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”, “Down By The Old Mill Stream”, and “Sweet Adeline” hearkened back to a time of innocence, of prosperity and peace. Coming out of the Great Depression and prior to the start of WWII, it all started with 26 men on a roof.
At that time, there was no plan, no vision, no grand scheme other than to get a few men together to sing. It later became a pretty popular organization drawing 75-150 men each week. But with time, that changed. Word spread to other cities and more chapters were formed. Soon, the love of 4-part harmony was being shared from coast to coast. And the vision just sort of appeared.
That was 1938. Today, the “Society” boasts a membership over 30,000 including affiliate organizations across the globe.
Many still think of a barbershop quartet as four old guys standing around in straw hats singing century old songs about mom, first love, Ireland and such. Yes, a lot of Irish themed songs have very simple melodies that are easy to sing in the barbershop style.
But thanks to the organization of one man, and the dedication of countless others, thousands of men can come together around the world united in song. Do you wonder what happens when strangers from this organization come together in the most unusual place?
Well they sing, of course. Thank you, OC Cash, for getting it started.