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Fact Sheet: Barbershop Harmony Society

November 29, 2018

Fact Sheet: Barbershop Harmony Society

Name, governance and legal

  • Barbershop Harmony Society or BHS. The Society’s full legal name is the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. or SPEBSQSA, Inc. (Note: no periods between letters of abbreviated form. “Barber Shop” is styled as two words in the full legal name only; in all other uses, “barbershop” is a single word.)
  • Organized as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation. Governed by an elected board of directors.
  • Administered by a professional staff of 35+ at Harmony Hall in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Annual budget $6.6 million, with revenues in roughly equal portions from membership, conventions, and merchandise. The combined impact of barbershop communities is estimated at nearly $30 million annually.
  • An active donor base channels more than $1 million annually in program activities at all levels through gifts to Harmony Foundation International.

Size and reach

  • Approximately 20,000 Members and Associates.
  • Approximately 700 chapters in the United States and Canada
  • Approximately 1200 quartets registered with the Barbershop Harmony Society headquarters; an estimated 1000 more quartets are active but not officially registered.
  • Age distribution: equal numbers of people joining between age 18-25 and age 62-69
  • In 2018, membership policy was expanded to include women. Approximately 700 women are enrolled as members and associates.
  • A comparable number of women sing with Sweet Adelines International (~20,000 members) and Harmony, Incorporated (~2700 members)
  • Affiliated organizations in: Australia, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand, The Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden. There are also barbershop singers in more than 30 countries, including Argentina, Brazil, China, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Total population of barbershop singers in various societies is more than 70,000 worldwide

Vision and Mission

  • Vision: “Everyone in Harmony”
  • Mission: “The Barbershop Harmony Society brings people together in harmony and fellowship to enrich lives through singing.”
  • Motto and theme song: “Keep The Whole World Singing

What is barbershop harmony?

  • Four-part, unaccompanied, close-harmony singing
  • The tenor harmonizes above the melody
  • Melody is carried in the second-highest voice, called the lead
  • The baritone provides in-between notes, to form consonant, pleasing chords.
  • The bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes
  • Performed in ensembles of all sizes: quartets (four singers), choruses (usually 12 or more singers, up to as many as 160 singers, most commonly 15-30 singers)
  • Performed in all-male, all-female, or mixed groups

Activities of the organization

  • Education of members and the general public in music appreciation, particularly barbershop singing, by way of schools, contests, and publishing.
  • Sheet music publishing, with more than 4500 titles in catalog. Worldwide commercial distribution through shop.barbershop.org and Hal Leonard Corporation
  • Video production and YouTube distribution for entertainment and education
  • Contests in quartet and chorus singing at local, regional, and international levels.
  • Partnerships with music education and choral organizations such as American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) and National Association for Music Education (NAfME) at all levels to advocate for recreational and social singing for life
  • Merchandising and sales of recordings, education materials, and apparel/lifestyle products
  • Charitable projects on a local and national basis. Quartets and choruses contribute more than 100,000 man-hours per year singing for more than half a million people at churches, schools, hospitals, senior centers, etc.

Education Programs

  • Harmony University, a week-long school held each summer, brings together more than 700 Barbershoppers from around the world with a world-class faculty of vocal coaches, arrangers, choreographers, and educators to explore all facets of the barbershop hobby. HU offers special tracks for directors, quartets, and general barbershop singing. Continuing Education Units available for music educators.
  • BHS Online offerings deliver free and fee-based instruction in vocal technique, arranging, directing and many other facets of barbershop performance.
  • Numerous manuals and videos teach vocal techniques, singing skills and chapter administration

Next Generation Barbershop outreach programs

  • Support for music educators in the classroom with music and materials that appeal to younger singers
  • Age-appropriate quartet contests provide incentives to explore close-harmony singing
  • Youth chorus festivals provide subsidized participation in high energy performance settings
  • Many Barbershoppers are active in their communities, in parent-teacher associations, in arts advocacy groups and in education coalitions, working to preserve arts education in school curricula.

Charitable and community activities

  • Harmony Foundation International, the Society’s official charity, funds more than $1 million annually in programming at all levels that support community singing and music education.
  • Barbershoppers donate sizeable amounts of money and time, and numerous performances to local charitable activities and vocal music education programs in their communities.

Origins and Founding

  • The music originated in the late 1800s in African American communities of the South, with deep ties to jazz musical techniques. (And yes, it really was sung in barbershops!)
  • First meeting of the Society: April 11, 1938 at the Roof Garden of the Tulsa Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
  • First quartet contest held June 1939; first chorus contest held July 1953
  • Sweet Adelines International founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1945; Harmony, Inc. formed in 1957.