Nugget of Knowledge: Barbershop quartet

Quartet singing did not have its roots in America, but in England, starting in the 1600s

Nugget of Knowledge


Why do they call them barbershop quartets?

Here’s how they sing: the second tenor carries the melody, the first tenor sings the harmony above him. The lowest voice, the bass, is the foundation and the baritone fills in the middle spaces.

Quartet singing did not have its roots in America, but in England, starting in the 1600s.

British barbers kept a small instrument, say, a lute, handy for their customers to play while waiting for their shave and haircut. Some customers even began to sing to it.

By the 1830s in America, men began to hang out in barbershops as though they were social clubs. To pass the time they would sing, and the only source of music in those days was a piano with sheet music.

By 1890, barbershop-style singing was a true fad.

And why the bright clothing? It started with Vaudeville.

Barbershop quartets often sang in front of the curtain to entertain while other acts were setting up. They wore distinctive clothing so everyone, even back in the cheap seats, could see them.

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