History of the Barber Shop Quartet, a Time-Honored Tradition

Barbershop Quartet Illustration

Few very few of the millions of youngsters that are currently plopped down in front of TV sets have heard of barbershop quartets, but the plain truth is that the singing foursomes are woven into the fabric of American culture. Barber shop quartets became popular in the mid-20th century, as the American male’s love affair with a close shave bloomed. Quartets quickly began forming in all corners of North America, and although they were all singing in an a capella style, each brought their own zest and twist to the genre.

Often dressed in bright colors, spherical top hats and vertical-striped vests, the vocals in a barber shop quartet consist of a smooth blend of harmonizing voices. The four members are typically a lead singer, a bass, a baritone and a tenor. Barbershop quartets utilize ringing chords that resonate in the ears of the listeners, creating a signature sound that many folks in the older generations listened to regularly in public performances and on the radio.

One of the more famous groups from the early years of the groups was The Buffalo Bills. The very talented quartet paved the way for barber shop quartets while making appearances on radio shows, televisions shows and even the silver screen. Hailing from Buffalo, New York, the group was geographically positioned in such a way that allowed them to tour the Eastern Seaboard regularly.

‘The Simpson’s’ creator Matt Groening put barbershop quartets on center stage in a wildly popular episode of his animated program in the mid-1990s. In a storyline that featured a waltz down memory lane, patriarch Homer Simpson was joined by Principal Skinner, Barney Gumbel and Apu to form ‘Homer’s Barbershop Quartet.’

The Dapper Dans of Disneyland are currently carrying the modern-day torch in Disney’s Magic Kingdoms. The aging quartet has a sound that pleases the adults and a look that mesmerizes the kids, making them a longtime fixture in Walt Disney’s places of business. In many instances, characters surround the quartet and engage in dance while the quartet goes through some of their most popular numbers.

Like many relics of the past century, the appearance of barbershop quartets is dwindling, so everyone should take advantage of any chance to attend a performance if possible. Barbershop quartets are a time-honored tradition that everyone should have the joy of experiencing.