Days Gone By - stories from the past

Did you know that Barber shop singing actually originated in Barber shops? Here is the story about its development

BARBERSHOP SINGING

BY

INEZ MCCOLLUM

Barber Shop Singing began in America in the last half of the 19th Century. Barber Shop Quartets originated with African American men socializing in barbershops. They would gather and harmonize while waiting for their turn in the barber chair. This music is a cappella, sung in four-part harmony. These parts are lead, tenor, baritone, and bass. Later white minstrel singers adopted the style.


The first Barber Shop Singing I heard was at Shades Valley High School in Homewood. My husband and I went with another couple for the concert. One of the groups sang “On Top of Old Smokey” and changed some of the words. One verse was about “draggin” milk. After a pause to discuss this wording, the soloist was asked about that dragon milk. His answer was: “Short legged cow!” My husband, having grown up in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, laughed about that during the remainder of the show. He would settle down, think of those mountains and short-legged cows, then begin chuckling again. I thought we would have to leave the concert early because of his outbursts of laughter.

The women’s version of Barber Shop Singing is the Sweet Adelines. During early marriage, a young lady who lived in an apartment next to ours joined the Sweet Adelines. This was her way of meeting new friends.

A few months ago, The Voices of the South Barbershop Chorus entertained during a luncheon at the Hoover Senior Center. A Senior Couple from my church was in the audience. The way they greeted the singers, I knew there was some history in the background. My friend Bill had sung with the group for forty-two years. Many friendships are formed by being a member of these groups. This particular group rehearses at one of the over-the-mountain churches.

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About Inez McCollum

Inez McCollum grew up in Etowah County.  Married Mack McCollum, a BI-vocational minister.  Moved to Birmingham to work while he worked and went to Howard College/Samford University.  Inez and Mack had three sons, Jay, Joe and John.  They bought their first home in what is now Hoover.  Inez continues to be active in Shades Mountain Baptist Church and some of the civic organizations in Hoover.  Inez also enjoys reading, travel and spending time with friends.

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3 comments

  1. Back about 1950’s, my Mother was quite active in “Civiettes” in Birmingham, and for some years, their big fund raising project was a big Barbershop singing “to do”

  2. But, they are not black? Are we discriminating again, it should be removed from the list of songs.

  3. I started working at UAB in 1972. Dr. Henry Hoffman, greatest boss ever, was in a large barber shop group. We went to one of their shows and it was so much fun. I love to hear men’s voices in harmony! They were also quite the comedians!

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