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Discover The Art Of
Barbershop Harmony

At Gem City Chorus, we celebrate the rich and captivating history of barbershop harmony, an art form that has united generations. From its humble beginnings in the late 1800s to its vibrant presence in the 21st century, the story of barbershop is an American tale of passion, harmony, and innovation.

A Harmonious Beginning

The roots of barbershop harmony stretch back to a time when men of all backgrounds gathered in unconventional spaces to share their love of song. These gatherings took place in assembly halls, community centers, rooftops, watering holes, and, of course, barbershops. Their repertoire was a tapestry of music, spanning vaudevillian melodies, folk ballads, show tunes, and spirituals. It was a musical journey born of shared passion and spontaneity.

As the 20th century dawned, this seemingly casual hobby began to take shape as a unique and distinctly American style of music.

The Birth Of Barbershop

In 1939, men officially formed the Barbershop Harmony Society, formerly known as the Society for Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA). Women soon followed suit in the 1940s. In 1945, a group of enterprising ladies in Tulsa, Oklahoma, convened at Edna Mae Anderson’s home and swiftly organized into an official chapter. This historic moment marked the birth of Sweet Adelines International, a global organization with a presence on five continents, boasting over 500 choruses worldwide.

The Essence Of Barbershop

So, what defines barbershop music? At its core, it’s a four-part a cappella art form known for its resounding chords and shimmering overtones. It distinguishes itself from traditional choral singing in several ways, the most striking being that it’s unaccompanied. The vocal parts are structured uniquely, with carefully defined roles within the harmonic framework.

The Cone Of Harmony

In standard choral music, parts typically fall into four categories: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass (SATB). Harmony is usually balanced across these parts in a cylindrical shape, with the soprano carrying the melody line.

In barbershop, harmony is driven by chords, with four parts: tenor, lead, baritone, and bass. The lead typically holds the melody line, but the harmonic structure resembles a cone shape. What sets barbershop apart is the distinct roles played by each vocal part, each contributing a different degree of weight and intensity.


Positioned at the top of the cone, tenors add a delicate, bell-like touch, creating the shimmering quality that sends shivers down the spine of audiences. Their art is in never overpowering the lead.


Just below the tenors, leads sing with authority and volume, as they are the storytellers, infusing the music with character to evoke an emotional response from the audience.


With a vocal range similar to the leads, baritones are unsung heroes. They fill in the missing notes of the chord, either above or below the lead line, adjusting volume as needed with subtle mastery. Baritones are the anonymous stars of the show.


The foundation of the cone, basses provide the tempo and a deep, resonant richness that reverberates through the spine. They’re the unshakable pillars of barbershop.

Together, these parts are woven with precision and artistry to create the overtones that define barbershop music.

Our Parent Organization

The goals of Sweet Adelines International have evolved over the years, but its mission remains unchanged: to advance the musical art form of barbershop harmony through education, competition, and performance. Gem City Chorus shares this mission, placing education at the forefront of our commitment to musical excellence.

Barbershop Education

Education is not just a word in our mission statement; it’s a guiding principle. At Gem City Chorus, we’re devoted to nurturing each member’s potential through mentoring, skill-building, educational workshops, and coaching sessions. The pursuit of musical excellence is a journey that never truly concludes.

Join the Gem City Chorus

If you possess a passion for music, the ability to carry a tune, and the desire to master the art of harmony, then you’ve found your place with us. Contact us today and experience the world of barbershop with Gem City Chorus.