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They travel in packs of four. They favor candy-striped vests and handlebar mustaches. They sometimes woo women by singing "Sweet Adeline."'
But have these wide-eyed harmonizers ever really sung inside barbershops?'
Sort of, according to Kirby Sullivan, an avid harmonizer and Hilton Head Barbershoppers officer.'
Sullivan and other barbershop singers are gearing up for their annual show at 8 p.m. March 7-8 at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. '
"Songs of the South" takes listeners on a trip through the South with songs such as "Georgia on My Mind" and "Alabamy Bound" before landing them back on Hilton Head Island. '
The Hilton Head Barbershoppers, also known as the Hilton Head Lighthouse Chorus, is joined by other barbershop groups including Endeavor, Catfish Bend, Shore Notes Ladies Barbershop Chorus, and the Hilton Head High School's Seahawk Show Choir, which will perform barbershop selections.'
This musical genre began in barbershops, Sullivan said.'
In the late 1800s, people in urban black communities often spent time socializing around shampoos and hair clippings, he said.'
"In rural America people gathered in country stores with old potbellied stoves and cracker barrels," Sullivan said. "Blacks tended to do that in barbershops."'
Sometimes gatherers amused themselves with song, embellishing popular tunes with four-part harmony, he said.'
In a pre-television world, this barbershop-style music caught on.'
With the help of sheet music, families could easily perform their favorite songs in ringing harmony. They didn't even need instruments.'
"They couldn't watch 'Jeopardy,' " Sullivan said. "The big entertainment for them was to gather in the parlor and sing."'
Thomas Edison's phonograph, though, put a damper on barbershop music.'
Songwriters began writing mostly for professional singers who intended to record, rather than for amateurs, Sullivan said. Jazz introduced melodies and rhythms too sophisticated for the average singer.'
"Because these new songs were not easily adaptable to impromptu singing, popular music moved away from barbershop singing," he said.'
Then came SPEBSQSA.'
In the late 1930s, two buddies from Tulsa, Okla., jokingly formed what became the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America.'
The acronym was a joke, Sullivan said. It poked fun at the alphabet soup of Roosevelt's New Deal programs.'
Those buddies' nostalgia was real, though. '
They began holding songfests on the Tulsa Club's roof to relive the good old days of wholesome harmony.'
The barbershop singing attracted a reporter, and that's when one of the two buddies, O.C. Cash, bluffed, Sullivan said. He claimed their society was national, with branches in cities including St. Louis and Kansas City. '
The so-called branch officers weren't aware of Cash's society. They were just friends of his who enjoyed harmonizing.'
They found out about SPEBSQSA soon enough, though, Sullivan said. When the reporter's story hit the news wire services, barbershop music lovers began calling them to see how they could join.'
The organization now comprises more than 800 choruses and 1,800 quartets in the United States and Canada, according to its promotional materials. It has eight affiliated organizations around the world. '
Female groups include Sweet Adelines International and Harmony Inc.'
Hilton Head Island's first barbershop group formed 29 years ago, Sullivan said. Today, it has about 40 active members.'
"Barbershop has always been about good guys getting together and having some fun," he said. "It's good, wholesome stuff."