Barbershop Harmony Society

The Early Years of Barbershop Harmony Society

The Chorus at Riverside ParkOfficially, it began in 1938 when twenty-six men attended a songfeston at the Roof Garden in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The original intention was only recreation and the funof singing. The men sought an organizational outlet. O. C. Cash, a lawyer, and Rupert Hall, a banker, drew up a plan for the organization. They sought to rival the New Deal agency initials of the Great Depression with a very long acronym identifier for their new organization—Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America. Today the Society’s official name is The Barbershop Harmony Society.

When it was founded, the Society was to be a voluntary association, casual and free wheeling. It was to become a hobby focused on music, recreation, education and social activities. Between 1941 and 1942, two thousand membership cards were distributed for fifty-five chapters. The organization began to take shape. In addition to its musical appeal, the traditional aspect of American culture to band together in groups with a common purpose attracted men in the 1940's and 50's. The La Crosse Chapter was chartered with fifty-five members on March 29, 1947.

Barbershop harmony requires four voice parts—tenor, lead, bass and baritone. The melding is predominately sung by the lead with the tenor harmonizing above the lead while the bass harmonizes below the lead.The baritone completes the chord with above or below the lead. Barbershop interpretative style permits wide liberties in treatment of note values, change in tempo, and volume to affect a mood and tell a story.

Quartet singing and gang singing activities dominated the early years of the Society and local chapters. Annual shows were called parades as quartets paraded on stage to sing. As chapters grew larger, they formed a chorus which provided greater opportunities for singing.

Early well know babershoppers included The Mills Brothers, The Jordanairs (with Elvis Presley), Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers, The Four Freshmen, The Dapper Dans at Disneyland, and the Buffalo Bills. Today there are thirty-two thousand Society members in seven hundred ninty-five chapters.

From 1947 to 2007 six hundred and fifty-nine men have been listed on the rolls of the La Crosse Coulee Chordsmen. We salute those who sang to preserve and encourage others to harmonize and to “Keep the Whole World Singing”. The current fifty-four members of the chapter are committed to keep singing and to have fun while doing it!