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It’s one thing to talk diversity; it’s another thing to live it

Marty Monson meets a lot of Barbershoppers in his travels, and every one of them has a story. He recently received this note after attending the Far Western Dsitrct convention.

My name is Charles Carothers. We met again at the FWD competition and had a great conversation about how to involve and communicate to minority groups to get them involved in this great craft and hobby.

Unbelievably, that very evening, a gentleman new to barbershop, asked me a question that absolutely stunned me. I feel compelled to share with you that conversation. I have shared this conversation with my chorus through our own email, and have received unbelievable responses of support. While it is a paraphrase, it is very, very close to what actually was said between us. I will never forget it.

As I was walking to the lobby to participate in the “flash mob”, I was stopped by a gentleman who stated he was new to barbershop and was overwhelmed by our performance. I said thank you and told him how blessed I was to be a part of the Masters of Harmony! I was turning to go when he stopped me dead in my tracks with the following question, “Does it bother you that you are one of just a few black men here at the convention and probably the entire Society? And why are there so few men of ANY ethnicity in the Society?” (That is a paraphrase, but it is very, very close.)

I could tell this man was genuinely interested, so I gave him the following answer.

I told him that I am a history fan, and when I joined the Society in 2007, I wanted to know the history of the Society. I happened across the most amazing article that covers this very topic.  I stated that this style of singing has roots that began with Black Americans from the late 19th century to about the 1920s, when harmony singing was originally considered “ethnic music” and soon was replaced by other forms of popular music and almost died completely until the rebirth in 1938 with S.P.E.B.S.Q.A. Only Caucasian people could join the Society until about 1963. Due to this long term exclusion of Black Americans and other ethnic groups, the music and style is not conducive to attracting black men in general with, rap, pop, r&b and jazz being predominantly chosen for those who sing.

I referred him to an article written by Jim Henry, a society icon, in the July / August 2001 Harmonizer  and his doctoral dissertation which can both be found on the Internet. He looked completely stunned by my answer and said he had no idea that was the case and was going to read the articles when he got home.

I ended with, “It doesn’t bother me one bit that I am one of a few black people in the Society. I participate because I love the sound of close harmony singing, for the friendship I have with the gentlemen of Masters and across the Society, and finally because I want to be the best I can be at this craft. I have run into a very few ‘cement heads,’ but that is their problem, I don’t make it mine. 99.9 percent of the time, at Society functions, the greeting is ‘What part do you sing?’ In my mind, there is no better question!!”

This past Saturday was a true gift, and I just want to share with as many people as possible.

Thanks for taking time from your schedule to read this email.

Yours, in harmony!

Charles Carothers

Masters of HarmonY