Cover image for Four parts, no waiting : a social history of American barbershop harmony
Four parts, no waiting : a social history of American barbershop harmony
Averill, Gage.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2003.
Physical Description:
xii, 234 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm + 1 CD (digital ; 4 3/4 in.).
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML3516 .A94 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Four Parts, No Waiting investigates the role that vernacular, barbershop-style close harmony has played in American musical history, in American life, and in the American imagination. Starting with a discussion of the first craze for Austrian four-part close harmony in the 1830s, Averilltraces the popularity of this musical form in minstrel shows, black recreational singing, vaudeville, early recordings, and in the barbershop revival of the 1930s. In his exploration of barbershop, Averill uncovers a rich musical tradition--a hybrid of black and white cultural forms, practiced byamateurs, and part of a mythologized vision of small-town American life. Barbershop harmony played a central -- and overlooked -- role in the panorama of American music. Averill demonstrates that the barbershop revival was part of a depression-era neo-Victorian revival, spurred on by insecuritiesof economic and social change. Contemporary barbershop singing turns this nostalgic vision into lived experience. Arguing that the "old songs" function as repositories of idealized social memory, Averill reveals ideologies of gender, race, and class. This engagingly-written, often funny bookcritiques the nostalgic myths (especially racial myths) that have surrounded the barbershop revival, but also celebrates the civic-minded, participatory spirit of barbershop harmony. The text is accompanied by an audio CD.

Author Notes

Gage Averill is Professor of Ethnomusicology and Chair of the Music Department at New York University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Averill (NYU) provides an excellent study of barbershop singing and its performers, studied as racial artifacts of 19th-century entertainments and life and as 20th-century instruments of evocation of a halcyon past in American culture. The author covers blackface minstrelsy; vocal quartets, both black and white; ensembles from the gay nineties, ragtime, and the early days of Tin Pan Alley; and vaudeville. He explores in considerable detail the midwestern roots of the revival of barbershop singing dating from the mid-1930s, spurred on by its importance in the 1939 World's Fair of New York, and he traces the history of the genre through WW II, including the formation of female quartets through the development of the Sweet Adeline groups. Chronicling singing after the end of the war, Averill presents four case studies: The Flying L Ranch Quartet (in which Roy Rogers sang); The Chordettes of the Arthur Godfrey television show; The Dapper Dans from Walt Disney's "Main Street, U.S.A."; and The Buffalo Bills, brought to the attention of the largest audiences through their roles in Meredith Willson's musical The Music Man (unfortunately, the author consistently refers to the composer as Meredith Wilson). An exhaustive bibliography and barbershop glossary accompany this otherwise first-rate study. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All collections, academic and public. C. W. Henderson Saint Mary's College (IN)