The Barbershop Harmony Society presented its Innovator of the Year Award to North Carolina Central University’s Department of Music for an initiative that introduced traditional barbershop singing to students on the Durham campus.
The NCCU Department of Music worked with the Carolinas District of the Barbershop Harmony Society to implement Barbershop Revival, an outreach program aimed at familiarizing students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with the style that has been linked to the African American diaspora.
“Our goals for Barbershop Revival were to enhance outreach, inclusion and education for HBCU students to learn about the true heritage of barbershop harmony in the African American musical community,” said Warren Fuson, chairman of the Barbershop Revival project. He and his wife, Andy Fusion, partnered with NCCU music professors in organizing the program.
“We are very grateful to NC Central University’s Department of Music, especially choral director Roberta Laws,” Fuson said. Without their support and participation, Barbershop Revival would just be a good idea, but they put legs under it.”
Approximately 40 NCCU students participated in the singing sessions, including 30 from the University Choir and 10 from the Vocal Jazz Ensemble.
Jawan Davidson, a junior jazz studies student, said he relished the experience tremendously.
“I enjoyed learning about the cultural significance of barbershop harmony,” Davidson said. “A lot of people don’t realize that barbershop harmony is a part of the African American diaspora.
“As a black music student, it’s empowering to see a positive, rare representation of yourself. The experience provided insight into the power of music and singing and how they can transcend into a magnetic and beautiful moment.”
The three-day symposium in March 2019 highlighted the origins in African American musical culture of barbershop harmony, which stands alongside other great African American musical art forms such as gospel, blues and jazz.
According to musicologists, barbershop quartets were most significant in African American culture in the late 1800s and early 1900s, including some musicians who later became part of the early jazz scene. However, lack of access to recording facilities and other barriers led to white barbershop groups becoming more successful and well known.