Honolulu's Barbershop Quartets
Honolulu’s barbershop quartets belt out the four-part harmonies.
Photo: courtesy of resonance
Barbershop quartets are as uniquely American as jazz combos, country-and-western bands, and Macklemore—if not quite so popular. The five foremost quartets in Honolulu today share a passion for the music while putting their own stamps on the genre. Here’s who’s doing what.
No, they’re not singing Quakers. They’re actual friends—four retired women who love performing old-time barbershop standards, Hawaiian favorites and patriotic anthems.
In four words: Singing keeps them young.
Median age: 76.
Uniform: Matching pantsuits, lots of bling.
Gigs: Schools, nursing homes, UH basketball and volleyball games, the psych ward at Tripler Army Medical Center.
Craziest venue: Tripler’s psych ward. “They locked the door behind us so the patients couldn’t escape,” says the tenor, Carole Wee. “That was weird.”
As the class clowns of barbershop, these guys mix traditional barbershop arrangements with parodies of medical doctors.
In four words: Real doctors smile patiently.
Median age: 55.
Uniform: Lab coats and stethoscopes.
Gigs: Weddings, funerals, birthday parties, nursing homes.
Toughest crowd: The inmates at Oahu Community Correctional Center. “I don’t think most of them had ever heard of barbershop before,” says Bill Joor, the tenor. “They didn’t know what to make of us.”
A spin-off of a young men’s a cappella chorus called 8zero8, this quartet formed to compete in a collegiate barbershop competition on the Mainland, then just kept singing.
In four words: The-up-and-comers.
Median age: 20.
Total number of members: Three. (The tenor moved to the Mainland.)
Gigs: Sacred Hearts Academy’s senior prom, the bass singer’s grandmother’s living room.
Looking for: A tenor.
ALOHA SPIRIT QUARTET
The bass singer lives off-island, which pretty much rules out regular rehearsals and gigs. Nonetheless, when these women get together, they do well in Mainland barbershop competitions—their specialty.
In four words: Earning frequent-flyer miles.
Median age: 46.
Uniform: Big hair, bold makeup, leggings.
Gigs: Singing competitions. (They won silver last year in the Sweet Adelines International District 21 contest.)
Fantasy gig: “We would love to break into the hotel brunch market,” says tenor Stephanie Conching, “but our bass lives on Kauai.”
These suave gentlemen don’t usually mention that the doo-wop, Rat Pack, smooth jazz and Broadway hits they’re performing have been rearranged for barbershop’s four-part harmonies and chord progressions. In other words, their audience usually has no idea they’re a barbershop quartet.
In four words: Sharing barbershop through stealth.
Median age: 50.
Gigs: Corporate retreats, champagne-and-caviar type-events, Valentine’s Day engagements.
Most awkward engagement: A man once hired Resonance to serenade his ex-wife on Valentine’s Day. His requested set list included songs such as pop-music parodist Weird Al Yankovic’s “One More Minute” (“I’d rather spend eternity eating shards of broken glass/Than spend one more minute with you!”) “We were being used as a weapon,” says the tenor, Phillip Wee.
Interested in singing barbershop? Find out more about Honolulu’s three main a capella choruses at honolulublend.org, soundsofaloha.org and sweetadelineshawaii.org.