Let’s be honest. When you hear the word barbershop, it’s easy to think of a handful of stereotypes – namely white, middle-aged and male.
When the Barbershop Harmony Society launched its “Everyone in Harmony” initiative in 2018, the goal was to further the artform’s expansion beyond these stereotypes to truly make the barbershop community one that includes people of all races, ages, genders, and backgrounds. Although barbershop has been open to everyone for many years through BHS, Harmony, Incorporated and Sweet Adelines, this initiative shows an active approach from the formerly men’s-only organization to be more inclusive to all.
This year’s Midwinter Convention in Nashville, airing live right here on FloVoice, Jan. 23-26, will showcase a number of these new initiatives, with singers from middle school to retirement age, including women’s groups, men’s groups, and mixed choruses and quartets.
In a huge step towards embracing the barbershop style’s roots in late 1800s African American communities, the convention will kick off the main stage festivities with “Heritage of Harmony: The African American Roots of Barbershop Harmony” on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. This concert is the result of five years of significant research and outreach on the part of BHS, coming to terms with the true history of the artform.
African American quartets, once barred from inclusion, are now actively being celebrated by BHS and the community at large. In 2018, the Society posthumously inducted an African American quartet to membership and established a memorial endowment fund. For an organization whose membership has historically and predominantly been white, this is a huge moment of learning and celebration. BHS looks to move forward by embracing the past and educating the future.
The show will feature performances by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, The Fairfield Four, and HALO, as well as appearances by Quartet Champions Crossroads and After Hours.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers, based at Fisk University in Nashville, travel worldwide to share the joy and history of Negro spirituals. The original group of singers came together in 1866. In 1871, the singers performed for a group of ministers at a national convention at Oberlin College in Ohio, marking one of the first public performances of previously forbidden “slave songs.” Since then, the group has worked tirelessly to preserve this uniquely American tradition with performances in a wide range of venues. The singers received a Grammy nomination in 2004 for their multi-media package, “In Bright Mansions,” which includes live recordings of 18 a cappella spirituals.
Three-time Grammy-winning ensemble The Fairfield Four originally came together in 1921, with strong influences from the Bessemer Sunset Four, the Birmingham Jubilee Singers, and the Famous Blue Jay Singers. The group’s signature gospel style was featured prominently in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou, and the soundtrack won the group its second Grammy in 2002. The current ensemble actively tours in pursuit of preserving this important style of music.
HALO, the recipients of the inaugural Grand Central Red Caps Scholarship to Harmony University in 2018, is known for its workshops on “Race and #RealTalk” in addition to the singing talents of its members. This Harmony, Incorporated quartet is the first African American Quartet to compete at the international level. Led by sisters Shana Oshiro and Niambi Powell, HALO “seeks to lead a transformative movement of community music therapy in which barbershop singing (and listening) serves as a metaphorical model by which we as a diverse people in one nation can learn to heal century-old wounds.”
The audience will also hear from Henry Hicks, the president and CEO of the National Museum of African-American Music.
Aside from great harmonies, we expect to see a week of great historical significance in Nashville. Join in from home right here on FloVoice.