Barbershop singing is all about harmony, with three voices following a lead singer to create powerful chords.

"It's a unique American musical tradition," said Frank Whitson, president of The Northshoremen barbershop chorus, which will perform its 64th annual concert Saturday at Beverly High School.

The concert will also feature North Shore Acappella, five singers from Greater Boston who were semifinalists last fall in NBC's "The Sing-Off," a televised competition between 16 a cappella groups.

"They're starting the second half of the concert," Whitson said. "They sing music primarily from the '50s and '60s."

If barbershop songs seem to recall a time when life was simpler, they also focus on romance in a way that never goes out of style, especially on Valentine's Day.

"We did over 50 singing Valentines this year," Whitson said. "We usually have two songs: 'The Story of the Rose (Heart of my Heart)' and 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart.'"

The Valentines were sung by several quartets drawn from The Northshoremen, which has 54 members. Three of these quartets will perform at Saturday's concert, including Essex County 4, which was busy this past Valentine's Day.

"We did 15 or 18 events," said Danvers' Charles Coogan, who sings baritone with the Essex County 4. "It was so much fun to see people's expressions."

Coogan grew up in the 1950s in Kingston, N.Y., where he accompanied his father to barbershop sessions at the American Legion.

"From 8 to 12, I would hang out with my father," Coogan said. "He was in barbershop easily 30 years; he definitely belted out a few songs."

All that music came flooding back recently when his father turned 91, and Coogan asked The Northshoremen to send a quartet to perform at his birthday party.

"They came in and kicked in with a couple of tunes, and my father and I were standing next to each other," Coogan said. "I said, 'Dad, you and I know these songs.'"

They both sang along with the quartet, and one of The Northshoremen later invited Coogan to join them at Wednesday practices at the Italian Community Center in Beverly.

"When you're singing and concentrating, all of your worries go away," he said. "When you go home, boy, do you feel good."

Another positive sensation — an acoustical effect unique to barbershop quartets — is the feeling that there is a "fifth voice" in the group, which occurs when all four voices hit a chord perfectly.

"When you ring a chord, it's magic," said Steve O'Connell, also from Danvers, who sings lead in the Essex County 4.

O'Connell has enjoyed music and performing all his life but was a newcomer to barbershop when he joined the Northshoremen last fall.

"I think I had an image of it, that it was all old songs — and there are some traditional, beautiful old songs we do," O'Connell said. "But we also have some more up-to-date songs, like 'Yesterday' from The Beatles, that would not normally be associated with barbershop."

For Saturday's concert, Essex County 4 will sing "It's Only a Paper Moon," which was originally written for Broadway in 1933, and "Blue Shadows on the Trail," composed by Randy Newman for the 1986 movie "The Three Amigos."

When they appeared on "Sing-Off," North Shore Acappella was typecast as singers of '50s doo-wop music, according to Vinny Straccia, a group member who grew up singing in Boston's North End.

"One-quarter of what we do is doo-wop," Straccia said. "Our repertoire spans everything. We're more noted for our soul and R&B-type of style, The Philly Sound: The Temptations, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson."

Still, appearing on television has only helped North Shore Acappella's reputation, and the group has since opened for Jay Leno and Gladys Knight.

The quintet performed one contemporary number on "The Sing-Off," "The Lazy Song" by Bruno Mars.

"It fit us perfectly — it almost seemed like it was a North Shore song," said Jimmy Martin, who was born in Lynn.


Who: Beverly Northshoremen and North Shore Acappella

When: Saturday, 3 p.m.

Where: Beverly High School, 100 Sohier Road

Tickets: $20; available in advance from Ernie Viens at 978-374-8865 or via email at

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