I joined the Barbershop Harmony Society in 1987 and I’ve been a huge barbershop music fan since that time. I dropped my membership a few years ago, but still follow it very closely. I thought it would be fun to do a blog series on the greatest singers of all time on each of the four voice parts! There are four voice parts in barbershop: the tenor, lead, baritone and bass.
The first barbershop quartet champions were crowned in 1939 and there has been a champion quartet crowned every year since then until Covid struck in 2020, cancelling the annual convention and contests. There are recordings of the early champs that I have listened to over the years and you can now find recordings and videos of most of these champions on YouTube. Granted, I haven’t heard all of the quartets in person, but I’ve heard enough recordings and have heard enough of the groups in person to I think I’m somewhat qualified to come up with a “Mount Rushmore” of the barbershop quartet voice parts. So without further ado, let’s start with what barbershoppers call “God’s Chosen People,” the basses. It’s quite a difficult chore to narrow this down to just four, but I tried to do just that…
Rick Staab, Bluegrass Student Union, 1978 Champions
Bluegrass Student Union won the barbershop quartet gold medals in 1978 and they still remain one of my favorite quartets. Rick Staab sang bass and I consider him one of the most accurate and resonant bass singers I’ve ever heard. Here’s a video of Bluegrass singing “Erie Canal.” Rick has a small solo about halfway through….
Here’s Rick on one of their signature songs “Slap That Bass.”
And their song “Swanee” features another solo from Rick about halfway through.
Jeff Oxley, The Rapscallions, 1984 Champions, Acoustix, 1990 Champions, and Max Q, 2007 Champions
Jeff is the bass singer with the most gold medals in the Barbershop Harmony Society, winning the gold in three quartets. When I first joined the society, Jeff was known as the premier bass singer in the society. Here’s a clip of his quartet Acoustix singing “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
And here they are singing “Tonight, Tonight.”
Here’s another of Jeff’s champion quartets, Max Q, in the finals of the year they won the gold, singing “Here’s To The Losers.” They had finished 2nd three years in a row and sang a parody making fun of themselves. They finally won the gold medals this time out!
Jim Henry, Gas House Gang, 1993 Champions and Crossroads, 2009 Champions
When you ask almost any barbershopper who the best bass of all time is, most will mention Jim Henry in the conversation. The Gas House Gang is one of the most popular quartets of all time and Crossroads is one of the most popular quartets of the current time. Here are a few tunes showing why Jim is one of the best, starting with “Sixteen Tons” from the Gas House Gang.
Here’s the Gas House Gang singing the National Anthem before a St. Louis Rams football game.
Here is a clip of Jim’s other champion quartet, Crossroads, singing “Lucky Old Son” when they won in 2009. Jim is known for his small solo line at the very end of the song for the intensity and emotion that he brought to the end of the performance.
Kevin Miles, Platinum, 2000 Champions
Before I ever heard Platinum, Joe Connelly, the lead of Platinum and already a two time gold medalist, coached my quartet in Kansas City. Joe was telling us he was getting a new quartet together and that his new bass was unbelievably amazing. This was high praise coming from Joe. He just raved and raved about the guy. He was talking about Kevin Miles. Kevin was the “voice of Disney World.” The narration you hear when you get on the monorail at Disney parks used to be Kevin’s voice and he also narrated a lot of the rides in the theme parks. Anyway, when Joe told us about Kevin, you can bet I couldn’t wait to hear them. He didn’t disappoint. Kevin might be the most powerful barbershop bass voice I’ve ever heard. He could shake an auditorium. Check out this tag on “Bye Bye Blues” as an example.
Here they are singing “Be Our Guest.”
And finally, here is Platinum singing “Cuddle Up A Little Closer” in Kansas City in 2000 when they won the gold medals. I was in the audience and when they cut off the tag on this song the place went nuts. They were the clear winners and Kevin’s monstrous hanger on this tag was a big reason why.
What do you think of the top four barbershop bass singers of all time? I’m sure some barbershoppers will argue with my picks and that’s ok. It’s fun to talk about.
Hope you enjoyed part one of this series. Now someone with better Photoshop skills than me needs to put their faces on Mount Rushmore!
I’ll do baritones next!