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Red Caps heir honored with father's Life Membership

Red Caps heir honored with father's Life Membership

A new chapter has been added to the story of the Grand Central Red Caps, a quartet of Black men who in 1941 were denied entry to the national contest of the then white-only SPEBSQSA.In a touching, joyful and sometimes tearful visit to Harmony Hall in June, Lauren Ward Parsons, daughter of Red Caps Baritone Robert Ward, received a replica plaque which recognized his 2017 posthumous admission to the Barbershop Harmony Society as a Life Member.

Lauren and her husband, Dr. Ken Parsons, toured the building, met the staff, and enjoyed a historical overview by Society historian emeritus David Wright, who placed the Red Caps’ experience in the context of barbershop’s evolution as a musical form created by African Americans in the 19th century.

Dr. Clifton Boyd, a music theorist and musicologist on the faculty of the Department of Music at New York University, brought insights from his dissertation and forthcoming book discussing how the anti-blackness prevalent in the United States during the Jim Crow era shaped how American barbershop quartet singing was theorized and institutionalized. It was Dr. Boyd’s research into the Red Caps lives and lineage that located Mrs. Parsons.

Mrs. Parsons spoke of her own lifelong love and involvement in music, from singing and harmonizing by ear with her parents, extended family and friends. “In the house, if you heard someone singing, you’d just join in, and you’d find a part,” she chuckled.

The Parsonses were pleased to learn about the recipients of the Grand Central Red Caps scholarship to Harmony University (Dr. Boyd among them,) and the $50,000 endowment that funds it.

See videos of the Red Caps, read Matthew Beals’ authoritative account of the 1941 contest, and learn more about the HU scholarship at