Local barbershop singing society marks its 50th anniversary

September 22, 2004

SPEBSQSA. Why all those letters, and what do they mean? The acronym stands for Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America.

When the society was founded in the late 1930s, government agencies used acronyms such as WPA, NRA, and CCC, as space savers. Not to be outdone, the society's founders, Owen C. Cash and Rupert I. Hall established the longest of all acronyms.

By chance, these men, both lawyers from Tulsa, Okla., met in a hotel in Kansas City, Mo., where they talked about reviving barbershop singing, which had faded with vaudeville. When they returned to Tulsa in April 1938, they sent letters to friends inviting them to join them to sing old-time songs in four-part harmony. Twenty-seven men showed up for the occasion, and that was the beginning of forming the largest singing society in the world, with eventual membership exceeding 40,000.

Today, there are barbershop chapters in every state of the union and in 12 different countries, bringing the love for this kind of music to members and audiences alike.


Sixteen years after Cash and Rupert met in Tulsa, a group of local men met in April 1954 and formed the Hagerstown Chapter of SPEBSQSA. The first meeting was held at St. John's Episcopal Church on Prospect Street. Since that time, meetings (rehearsals) have been held in different locations in the city.

The chapter meets every Monday evening at 7:30 at Haven Lutheran Church on Haven Road. The group welcomes all to join in the celebration of 50 years of preserving barbershop harmony, a truly American institution.

At a recent Hagerstown City Council meeting, the council proclaimed September Barbershop Harmony Month, sharing in the beautiful sound of four part harmony in the barbershop style.

The Mason Dixon Barbershop Chorus will celebrate the golden anniversary of barbershop singing in Hagerstown at its annual show, "Ro-Ro-Rollin Along" on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for students. Call 301-0739-7338 for more information.

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