In memoriam: Dr. Burt Szabo, 1931-2022
The Barbershop Harmony Society mourns the loss of Dr. Burt Szabo, the legendary arranger, teacher, judge, staffer, and stalwart defender of the barbershop style. Burt was 90 years old and had been living in retirement in Florida.
Burt was inducted into the Barbershop Harmony Society Hall of Fame in 2009. Two of his landmark publications, the Barbershop Arranging Manual (1980) and the Heritage of Harmony 50th Anniversary Songbook (1988) were considered the definitive works of the style at the time of their publication. With compositions and arrangements numbering in the hundreds (including dozens attributed to SPEBSQSA as works-for-hire), he was one of the most prolific and widely-sung barbershop arrangers of all time.
Szabo joined the SPEBSQSA staff in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1983, and edited all music publications until his retirement in 1995. As an Arrangement judge, he officiated at dozens of district contests as well as 25 international competitions. He served as Arrangement Category Specialist and as International Contest and Judging Chairman.
Burt was at the center of the 1970 revision of the Arrangement Category Judging Description, which codified the barbershop style within what are now seen as overly narrow bounds of source material, form, and harmonic vocabulary. In later years, his powerful advocacy to Keep it Barbershop made him a hero to some and an outdated reactionary to others. His influential 2001 essay in The Harmonizer, “Is the foundation of barbershop being erased?” kicked off a fresh round of re-examination of the style… with results he did not relish.
His retirement years were filled with continued composing and arranging, and his music continues to be sung today, and his name invoked with happiness.
Brian Lynch is Public Relations Manager for the Barbershop Harmony Society.