A Century of A Cappella

Here is the beginning of a history of twentieth century a cappella.

1930s . . . 1940s . . . 1950s . . . 1960s . . . 1970s . . . 1980s . . . 1990s


 The Yale Whiffenpoofs are formed as an adjunct to the Yale Glee Club. Collegiate a cappella is born. "The Whiffenpoof Song" goes on to become the most covered collegiate a cappella original song in history.



The first written use of the word "barbershop" associating it with harmonizing occurs with the song, "Play That Barbershop Chord."  


The Mills Brothers begin recording. Their popular voicetrumental sound, typified by "Swing It Sister," was billed on the records as "No musical instruments or mechanical devices used on this recording other than one guitar."



The Golden Gate Quartet debuts a 78, their signature "Golden Gate Gospel Train" a cappella with voicetrumentation and train chords, emulating the Mills Brothers.



O. C. Cash has the first meeting of the "Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in the United States" a songfest on the roof garden of the Tulsa Club in Tulsa Oklahoma, on April 11. The organization now known as SPEBSQSA is born.


Solomon Linda's Original Evening Birds record "Mbube," later translated to English as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," in South Africa. The song is so popular a whole style of a cappella singing called Mbube is born.  


The Sweet Adelines International is founded, providing for women barbershoppers the equivalent of SPEBSQSA.


 Sam Cooke sings lead with The Soul Stirrers, starting a direct link from a cappella gospel to rock & roll with songs like "It Won't Be Very Long."


The Hi-Lo's are founded by Gene Puerling.  


The Chordettes have a huge hit with "Mr. Sandman," completing their switch from women's barbershop pioneers to pop stars.



The Hi-Lo's, signed to Columbia, produce "Suddenly It's the Hi-Lo's," "Ring Around Rosie," and "Love Nest" which included their stellar a cappella rendition of "My Romance."



Harmony Inc. splits off from the Sweet Adelines.  


The Buffalo Bills appear in "The Music Man," providing one of Barbershop's most visible moments.  


The Swingle Singers release "Bach's Greatest Hits" and win the Grammy for New Artist of the Year. (Not quite a cappella, though.)  


The Persuasions are founded.  


Frank Zappa on his label "Straight Records" records The Persuasions first album "Acapella."

On May 1, a group that emerged from King's College in England performed for the first time as The King's Singers.



The Persuasions "We Came To Play", now on Columbia Records, hits the Billboard 200 charts (9/18) with "Chain Gang" and other hits.

Ralph Stanley introduces a cappella quartet gospel singing to his bluegrass music audience.


 The Persuasions "Street Corner Symphony" hits the Billboard 200 charts (2/12) peaking at number 88, featuring "Buffalo Soldier".

Gene Puerling forms Singers Unlimited and they release "Try To Remember," now known as "A Capella" (yes, they misspell it) with amazing a cappella overdubbing - a new studio technique. Oscar Peterson gets them a record deal on MPS in Germany after hearing "Fool On The Hill."

The Belmonts, formerly of Dion and the Belmonts, release "Cigars, Acappella, Candy."

The Manhattan Transfer are born (October 1).



The King's Singers record "Lollipops," their first all a cappella recording of light songs such as "I'm A Train" and "Didn't We."  


Manhattan Transfer's first album is released - with lots of accompanied close harmony and a few a cappella intros (like "Operator").

Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock, releases a solo, overdubbed recording of civil rights songs, "Give Your Hands to Struggle" - the first "one person a cappella band."


Sweet Honey in the Rock releases their debut, self-named recording on the Flying Fish label, with the only instruments and pop songs they'll ever use.  


Manhattan Transfer releases "Extensions" which includes their first a cappella song, "Foreign Affair."

The Nylons are formed by three actors and a singer touring with the Platters.


Manhattan Transfer releases "Mecca for Moderns" which includes a cappella "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square." The album is the first ever to win Grammies in both pop and jazz categories.


The Nyons' debut album opens with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight - and contemporary a cappella groups will feel compelled to forever follow their example.

The Bobs are formed when two members close their singing telegrams venture "Western Onion Telegraph Company" and place a classified ad.


The Bobs release their self-named debut recording featuring "Helter Skelter" for which they were nominated for a Grammy for best vocal arrangement.

In England, The Flying Pickets hit #1 in the charts with "Only You" for five weeks beginning December 10.

Billy Joel features the "nearly a cappella" song "Longest Time" on his album "An Innocent Man."


Bobby McFerrin releases "The Voice," the first recording to capture his unique one man a cappella band sound.


Manhattan Transfer releases "Vocalese" which includes an a cappella track "Another Night in Tunisia" featuring Bobby McFerrin and Jon Hendricks. The recording is nominated for 12 Grammies.

Todd Rundgren's "A Cappella" makes it to #128 on the Billboard 200.

Phil Mattson and the PM Singers release "Night in the City" (f.k.a. "Setting Standards") with tunes from Bobby McFerrin and Gene Puerling, along with Mattson's seminal "I'll Be Seeing You."

The first Harmony Sweepstakes contest is held in Marin County in California. The winner of the local competition is "Just Friends."


Paul Simon releases "Graceland," performed with the help of South African ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It wins the Grammy for Album of the Year.

Keith Lancaster forms his musical ministry group Acappella, which grows over the years into The Acappella Company with over 50 albums and over 2 million units sold.

Rockapella was formed when 3 members graduate from the Brown University High Jinks.

The Mint Juleps are formed in England.



The Nylons hit their peak with "Happy Together," whose singles "Kiss Him Goodbye" (peaking at #12) and "Happy Together" (peaking at #75) break into mainstream radio.

The Real Group is formed in Stockholm, records their "Debut."


Bobby McFerrin releases "Simple Pleasures" with the monster hit, "Don't Worry Be Happy" which becomes the number one single.

Take 6 explodes on the scene with their debut self-named album, and wins a Grammy for singing songs like "Spread Love".

Glad produces their first "A Cappella Project" for the Contemporary Christian market.



While during the rest of the '80s about half a dozen new collegiate a cappella groups were formed per year, suddenly over 20 groups spring up - and there will be about the same number formed every year afterwards.

Debut recording by Montezuma's Revenge of The Netherlands.


"Do It A Cappella" is run on PBS, with Spike Lee following the trail of urban a cappella from Rockapella, The Persuasions and more.

CASA, the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America, is formed by Deke Sharon of the Tufts Beelzebubs in his college dorm, as the "Collegiate..." but it quickly grows to include all groups.

Debut recordings by: The Flirtations, The Knudsen Brothers.



Boyz II Men, formed in 1988, debuts "Cooleyhighharmony" with the a cappella monster hit, "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday." The album enters the Billboard 200 June 1 and stays on the charts for 133 weeks.

Debut recordings from 17th Ave. All-Stars, Beachfront Property, The Edlos.

The House Jacks are formed as the first a cappella group with a designated vocal percussionist.


Rockapella produces their first Japanese recording, "To New York."

The Primarily A Cappella Catalog debuts.

Debut recordings from The Blenders, The Trenchcoats, and Trio Esperanca.

Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards established.


The first A Cappella Summit is held in the Marin Civic Center in California.

Huey Lewis & The News reach #4 on the charts with "It's Alright."

Debut recordings: Zap Mama (Belgium), La Bande Magnetik (Canada) plus Straight Company, Throat Culture and Vox One.


Debut recordings: Five O'Clock Shadow, Gema 4, House Jacks, Street Sounds



CASA starts the Urban Harmony Movement.

Rockapella releases their first US recording, "Primer."

Debut recordings: 4 Tunes, A La Carte, Accidentals, Beat A'Chon, Black Voices, Essentials, Extempo, Jezebelle, Monkey Puzzle, Streetnix, Tonic Sol Fa, and Vocal Sampling.


The first National Championship of Collegiate A Cappella is held, with the finals at Lincoln Center.

The first all a cappella record label is formed, Primarily A Cappella Records.

A Cappella Radio International airs for the first time.



 History is in the making...  


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