Long before The Beach Boys, The Four Freshmen or even The Mills Brothers learned how to harmonize, small groups of American men were putting their voices together to make beautiful music.
They weren't out to make hit records. There was no Top 40 back then just the south 40. The motive for their music-making was pure, simple pleasure and fellowship.
They called themselves barbershop quartets. The tradition dates from the late 1800s, when this kind of singing centered around the social gathering places of men particularly that little storefront with the distinctive red-and-white striped pole outside.
A century later, in this age of electronics, stereophonics and rock 'n' roll histrionics, that old style of song will live again this Saturday at Civic Center Music Hall.
That's when the OK Chorale will present its 40th annual barbershop harmony show. "Harmony at the OK Chorale" will be presented at 2 p.m. and again at 8 p.m. "Pure barbershop singing is always done a cappella (without the accompaniment of musical instruments)," explained Jack Bagby, public relations officer of the OK Chorale.
A longtime enthusiast of this musical form, Bagby said the appeal, for the participants, "is the pleasure of tuning a chord, putting four voices together, and producing a sound like a full-range organ.
"If it's not done well, it can be quite painful for the audience," he added. "But when it is done well, it produces overtones and a real, ringing sound that raises goose bumps."
Bagby proudly noted that the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America the national organization of barbershop harmony was founded in Tulsa in 1938.
Bagby recounted when O.C. Cash, a tax attorney who dabbed in barbershop singing, organized a song fest with 26 others who shared his interest.
"Apparently, he felt that radio was threatening that form of music," Bagby said.
The event was held in the roof garden of the old Alvin Plaza Hotel on April 11, 1938.
The unusual sound of handsomely-blended male voice caught the ear of a newspaper reporter down on the street, Bagby said, and an account of the event was sent out over the national wire services that evening.
"They say it "struck a chord with men all over the country,' " Bagby said.
The founding chapter of SPEBSQSA was formed, and soon there was a second group in Kansas City and a third in Oklahoma City, which, in its early days, met at the old Biltmore Hotel.