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Music Pop Vocal

Four Parts, No Waiting

A Social History of American Barbershop Quartet

by (author) Gage Averill

Oxford University Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2010
Pop Vocal
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2010
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2002
    List Price

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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, Averill traces 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 by amateurs, 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 insecurities of 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 book critiques 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.

About the author

Contributor Notes

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

Editorial Reviews

"Succeeds both as a historical account and as a survey of barbershop as an institution in the United States today. In his discussion of race, of values, of relations between generations, Averill finds ways to put historical issues in useful contexts and relate them to modern concerns."--John Spitzer, Professor of Music, Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University

"Averill generally manages to strike the necessary balance among the needs of disparate audiences: scholars, college students, and barbershop singers themselves. In Four Parts, No Waiting Gage Averill has given us an elegantly written volume that should be read by anyone interested in the history of American popular music." --Ethnomusicology

"A superbly written piece of scholarship that promises to be an important contribution to our understanding of American vernacular music."--Ray Allen, Institute for Studies in American Music, Brooklyn College

"The story Averill has to tell is an important one for every scholar and student of American music, and it has never been told so well and in such detail before....It should be on the reading list of every course in American music."--Charles Hamm, Professor Emeritus of Music, Dartmouth University