Watch & Listen Member Center / Docs Shop

Fact Sheet: Barbershop Harmony Society

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, Incorporated. or SPEBSQSA, Incorporated. (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 20+ at Harmony Hall in Nashville, Tennessee.

  • Annual budget $5.2 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 to program activities at all levels -- through gifts to the barbershop Harmony Society.

Size and reach

  • Approximately 14,000 Members

  • Approximately 740 choruses in the United States and Canada

  • Approximately 850 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 all people. More than 1,400 women are enrolled as 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, India, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, 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 combinations of singers, genders, and identities

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 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.

  • 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

  • Contributions from barbershoppers fund more than $1 million annually in programming at all levels that support community singing and music education.

  • Barbershoppers donate sizable 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.

Everyone in Harmony: How a barbershop quartet club might hold the key to world peace

OC and Rupert didn’t expect to change the world; they just wanted to spend an evening singing with some friends. But what began on a lark as a quaint hobby became a music revivalist tradition, evolved into a legitimate musical art form, and is now a dynamic force for changing lives throughout the world.

The Barbershop Harmony Society, founded in 1938 as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, still holds at its core the joy of ringing a few chords together. The face of the Society today, though, is much different today. What had been a club for middle-aged, predominantly white men now actively welcomes all people: men and women, young and old, of increasingly diverse backgrounds and beliefs, united in a love of harmony.

Early Years: a social club that sings

It was a stormy March night in 1938, when Tulsa tax attorney Owen C. Cash found himself stranded overnight in Kansas City by rainstorms that had closed the airport. OC ran into a fellow stranded Tulsan, investment banker Rupert I. Hall, in the lobby of the Muehlebach Hotel. Striking up a few juicy chords (after tipping a bellman to help them find a few more singers), the men bemoaned the decline of that all-American institution, the barbershop quartet. Upon their return home, they penned 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 their numbers swelled rapidly in subsequent meetings. 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 original name and initials (SPEBSQSA)—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 in. Membership grew to more than 2,000 men in that first year, and the Society held its first convention and national contest the following year.

From that whimsical start, the Barbershop Harmony Society grew quickly in the post-war years, and for the next 75 years expanded in musical ability, reach, and a rich tradition mixed equally of great music, great fellowship, and a cheery mission to “Keep the Whole World Singing."

Making an impact on communities

A maturing sense of purpose and mission in the new millennium led to a comprehensive strategic study, culminating in key insights that the Barbershop Harmony Society is uniquely positioned to make a difference in the world, thanks to its deeply committed members, unique culture, and passion for sharing music with others.

Everyone in Harmony, the Strategic Vision adopted in 2017, calls for the Society to be radically inclusive. Everyone means EVERYONE -- men and women, young and old, of every background, every race, every sexual orientation, every political opinion or spiritual belief. Every person who loves to harmonize has a place in the barbershop family.

Membership was extended to admit women in June 2018, and an expanded range of membership experiences, ensembles and chapter offerings are currently developing. Barbershop continues to evolve, with ensembles of mixed voices gaining interest, alongside all-men and all-women’s groups.

Reaching everyone means making sure the love of singing is supported from early years, which is why the Society has for decades partnered with music education organizations such as the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) to support choral music educators in the classroom, and by way of scholarships to Harmony University. A vibrant Next Generation Barbershop program reaches hundreds of thousands of students each year through clinics and festivals.

Barbershoppers actively support community service projects and local charities, and contribute many man-hours singing for churches, schools, and hospitals. In addition, most of the organization's chapters stage at least one annual show, bringing featured quartets and choruses to the community.