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Lustre Quartet & Electric Avenue Quartet

barbershop quartet singing Baltimore, Maryland
Photo Credit: Edwin Remsberg Photographs
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The all-female group Lustre Quartet, the 2018 Sweet Adelines International Quartet Champions, among several other notable regional and international awards, are masters of the barbershop quartet tradition.

One of the most widely known a cappella harmony singing traditions, the barbershop quartet style consists of four-part harmony, but not necessarily four singers. The tradition can be traced to 19th-century African American culture, improvisation in particular, combined with European harmony traditions. By the time phonograph recording first documented the sound, most performers were white, obscuring for many its roots in black culture. In 1938, two men from Tulsa, Oklahoma, founded the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. While the group’s name was intended to parody the “alphabet soup” of New Deal agencies, the organization—now officially known as the Barbershop Harmony Society—has had a lasting impact on American singing.

Singers can be both male and female, but it is rare to see a mixed group. Male groups are known as barbershop quartets, while female groups are known as Sweet Adelines (named for the song of the same name). Sweet Adelines International now lists over 30,000 singers in its membership from countries worldwide.

Master artist Jenny Harris sings bass with the Lustre Quartet. She has been working with apprentice Donna Vincent Roa, who herself leads a Sweet Adelines group known as Electric Avenue Quartet. From Jenny, Donna has been learning about quartet history, breathing, and technique, as well as stage presentation. At the festival, both quartets will show off their skills.

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