Barbershop History

Barbershop singing is generally regarded as having evolved in America, but the truth is it has its most basic roots on this side of the water.

It started in Elizabethan England where, in those days, men could not afford the price of a cut throat razor so, before church on a Sunday, they would go to the Barber for a shave.  There, someone would start to sing a song - most probably something that was later to be sung in church - and others would join in with harmonies.  Thus Barbershop harmony was born.

In the 17th century, Samuel Pepys mentioned Barbershop in his diary, as traditional music sung in parlours, barbershops and “publick places”.

Immigrants took it to America where it really took off in the 1800's with harmony quartets joining travelling shows and vaudeville.  The popularity of Barbershop peaked just before the first world war, but with the coming of talking movies, jazz and the band music of the roaring twenties it fell out of favour.

A revival started in the states in 1938 with the first Barbershop singing society being formed in Tulsa.  Popularity grew through the 40' and 50's with quartet and chorus competitions being held throughout the country.

Enthusiasm for the style overflowed back to the UK and the first clubs in this country were formed in the 70's.

There are now about 60 clubs in the UK and the British Association of Barbershop Singers oversees a number of events including an annual convention/competition and two major residential courses for singers and chorus directors.