|Years active 1938–present|
Members 29,425 (March 2007)
Founder Owen C. Cash
|Also known as Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc.|
Headquarters Nashville, Tennessee, United States
Origin Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States
Genres A cappella, Barbershop music
Similar Ambassadors of Harmony, Westminster Chorus, Vocal Spectrum, Ringmasters, Instant Classic
The Barbershop Harmony Society, legally and historically named the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. (SPEBSQSA), is the first of several organizations to promote and preserve barbershop music as an art form. Founded by Owen C. Cash and Rupert I. Hall in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1938, the organization quickly grew, promoting barbershop harmony among men of all ages. As of 2014, just under 23,000 men in the United States and Canada are members of this organization whose focus is on a cappella music. The international headquarters was in Kenosha, Wisconsin for fifty years before moving to Nashville, Tennessee in 2007.
- International quartet champions
- Chorus champions
- Districts of BHS
A parallel women's singing organization, Sweet Adelines International (SAI) was founded in 1945. A second women's barbershop harmony organization, Harmony, Inc., broke from SAI in 1959 over an issue of racial exclusion, with SAI (like SPEBSQSA and many other organizations) being white-only at that time. Several international affiliate organizations, in countries around the world, add their own flavor to the signature sound of barbershop harmony.
The original name SPEBSQSA was intended as a lampoon on Roosevelt's New Deal alphabet agencies. Because of the name's length and the difficult-to-pronounce acronym, society staff and members often refer to SPEBSQSA as The Society. For decades, SPEBSQSA was the official name, while the Barbershop Harmony Society was an officially recognized and sanctioned alternate. Members were encouraged to use the alternate name, because it was felt that the official name was an in-joke that did not resonate outside the Society. In mid-2004, faced with declining membership, the Society adopted a marketing plan that called for using "Barbershop Harmony Society" consistently and retaining the old name for certain legal purposes.
The old official name spelled "barber shop" as two words, while barbershop is generally used elsewhere.
In reference to the acronym SPEBSQSA, The Society has said "attempts to pronounce the name are discouraged". Unofficially, it is sometimes pronounced as if it were spelled "Spebsqua".
In late 2004, the Society established Barbershop Harmony Society as its new "brand name", with a logo and identity program released in 2005. Although the legal name remained SPEBSQSA, Inc., the decision was controversial, as many members felt that the new name did not reflect a mission of preservation and encouragement of the style. Many members were concerned that the term "quartet" had been dropped, fearing a movement in the direction of choral singing and downplaying quartet singing.
A key aspect of the Society's mission is in the preservation of barbershop music. To this end, it maintains the Old Songs Library. Holding over 100,000 titles (750,000 sheets) this is the largest sheet music collection in the world excepting only the Library of Congress.
The "Barberpole Cat Program" is an essential repertoire of 12 songs (commonly known as "polecats") that every barbershopper should know. The purpose of this program is to give all barbershoppers a common repertoire so that any new quartet will have something already prepared to sing.
Harmony Foundation International, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, was incorporated in 1959 as a charitable subsidiary of the Barbershop Harmony Society; it raises financial support for the society's programs.
In 2003, in preparation for a new headquarters location, the Society sold both Harmony Hall, a historic lakefront mansion in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and its nearby facility (known as Harmony Hall West) located in a strip mall which the Society purchased in 1976 and renovated. HHW had housed finance, merchandising, IT and membership. Operations and staff from both buildings were consolidated into a remodeled HHW.
In 2006 the Society announced plans to move its headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee. In August 2007, the Society completed the relocation to 110 Seventh Avenue North, in Nashville.
To promote and improve barbershop singing, the society annually runs international and district level contests for choruses and quartets.
When a quartet wins the international gold medal, they are considered champions forever and may not compete again. A chorus that wins the gold, however, must sit out of competition for only two years and thus may compete for the gold medal again in the third year following their win.
International quartet champions
Districts of BHS
For purposes of administration (particularly of local schools and contests) the society is organized into geographical districts as follows.