Menu

Spirit of St. Louis Chorus

St. Louis #1 Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society

header photo

History of Barbershop

Barbershop quartets wereBarbershop quartet circa 1904 a key part of popular music during the "Vaudeville Era" (1890-1925) when almost every community had a small theater that presented professional variety shows for the local community. Since quartets could perform without accompaniment, it made them even more economical and popular with theater owners. Quartets recorded well on the first primitive vinyl records because of their clean sound, without the often-unclear background of an accompaniment. Most importantly, popular songs of the era were composed with the intention of being sung by harmony groups including quartets. But this golden era of barbershop quartets had to come to an end.O.C. Cash

With the rise of motion pictures in the 1920s, vaudeville theaters quickly converted to showing these new, inexpensive entertainment wonders. Soon professional live entertainment disappeared from the theaters. By the late 1920s, radio did provide an outlet for entertainers, but the handful of remaining quartets had to change their style to fit the new Jazz Era. As a result, traditional barbershop music had almost completely disappeared as an art form.

But help was on the way! In 1938, a music-loving businessman named O.C. Cash called for a Society to preserve the barbershop quartet form of singing. His early meetings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, drew over a hundred singers, yearning to sing songs like they had as young men. Within months, the call was heard in Kansas City and then St. Louis. By the end of 1939, the Barbershop Harmony Society was well established in numerous cities in the United States. For the next six decades, the Barbershop Harmony Society would be called SPEBSQSA or The  Society For the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America. This lighthearted name clearly reflected the main mission of the Society- to preserve the old harmony songs and have fun! Today we just use the simpler name of the Barbershop Harmony Society.