The History Behind A Capella by Eva Senatore

A capella is a type of performance strictly done with vocals and other noises made with the mouth and excludes all instruments. The style can be traced back throughout time and can be seen transforming into its own genre of music as the style becomes more and more popular amongst younger generations.

A capella got its start in the religious world and can be traced back to religious texts from Judeo-Christian and Islamic tradition where instruments seem to be banned and therefore the songs they sang were all a capella. This style is still around in the religious world today with Christian Pop and within the Jewish religion on the Sabbath when playing instruments is prohibited which is called, “zemirot”.

The style made its way over and was Americanized and became known as Barbershop music which included a four-part harmony; which if done right, overtones could be heard over the notes. A capella was known as barbershop in the 1900s and became really popular in the 40s. This type of sound was brought back into the mainstream with the song “Mr. Sandman” in 1954.

This is an example of the typical image of what a typical barbershop group looks and sounds like:

A capella has slowly made its way into the mainstream pop music and has branched out into having different types of sounds. An example of a capella in pop music is “For the Longest Time” by Billy Joel. The different harmonies from the barbershop quartets can be heard alongside the style of doo wop from the 40s with a little bit more percussion creates a new sound for the idea of a capella and opens the door for experimentation.

Here’s the link to “For the Longest Time” by Billy Joel:

As time went on, the sounds of the time started changing. With each of these songs, you can see a heighten in energy as the creative juices begin to flow and the songs get filled with more energy along with the singers who have so much energy as they sing that it comes out through their bodies. One thing that makes a capella music so great is that it’s just your voice and your body that you have to bring to the table but everything passed that is fair game. Creativity and talent really shine in this genre and it is hard to replicate; even the most overplayed song done as an a capella song could be the next best thing. Every rendition of an a capella song is something that the singer owns and can only be done that way by that particular singer. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Nylons is a perfect example of an a capella song that has branded itself through time because of how distinct the voices and the performances were done of the song. The group is filled with so much energy and they are so connected with each other while actually enjoying performing creates an environment where audiences eat up all of the energy and love that The Nylons are giving them. This song in particular is one of the most performed songs within a capella groups now and none of their covers will be exactly the same as The Nylons.

Could you imagine being in the audience for this?

A capella in today’s world usually looks something like this:

Silly outfits to match the silly choreographed numbers; college has taken over the a capella world. Almost every college in America runs some type of a capella group which allows students to express themselves through song and quirkiness. The young generations have really taken over the idea of a capella and have created some really fantastic work with it. Popular groups such as Pentatonix has really set the bar for a capella groups as they fill their songs with energy and soul while hitting every note perfectly and with finesse. This rejuvenated look at a capella has taken it to new levels of looking at a span of time through the eyes of a capella:

This is just the beginning of a new era of taking it back to using just the body as an instrument.

You have not seen the end of the a capella craze.