Barbershop singing is a style of “A cappella” or unaccompanied vocal music. It is characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note.
In the last half of the 19th century, Barbershop quartets originated when African American men would improvise harmony while waiting for a hair cut. This generated a new style of close harmony singing without instruments. Later, white minstrel-singers adopted the style and in the early days of the recording industry their performances were recorded and sold. Early standards included songs such as “Shine on harvest Moon” and “Hello my Baby” and “Sweet Adeline”.
Each of the four parts has its own role.
The Four Voices: Due to its male origins, the voice parts are traditionally named after men:
The ‘Tenor’ is the highest voice and harmonizes above the melody.The ‘Lead’ part sings the melody line. The ‘Baritone’ part sings the next lowest part and completes the chord, usually below the lead. The ‘Bass’ part is the lowest and supports the chord