10 College a cappella groups to listen to now
by Aimee Hosler | February 4, 2013
Before hit shows like FOX's "Glee" or NBC's "The Sing-Off," university a cappella groups achieved mostly quiet recognition through competition performances on the college circuit and, occasionally, a lucky break on TV or YouTube. Today, these groups may be household names, at least among a cappella aficionados and music show fanatics. While a number of high-caliber ensembles croon on campuses across the country, some are noteworthy for their loyal fans, upbeat showmanship, community contributions, sheer longevity, media splash and online viral success. The following ten groups are just a few examples.
10 a capella college groups that stand out
- Beelzebubs: Since 1962, this Tufts University all-male a cappella group has carried out its motto, "Fun Through Song." Their diverse repertoire ranges from rock or pop to hip hop, and Tufts magazine reports that their music has even been played in outer space. The "Bubs" competed on NBC's "The Sing-Off" and provided arrangements and back-up vocals for the Dalton Academy Warblers on FOX's "Glee." The Beelzebubs sponsor the not-for-profit Bubs Foundation, which raises money for music programs in Boston-area public schools.
- The Bostonians: The oldest a cappella group at Boston College, this 12-member, co-ed group uses their voices as instruments in a wide range of music genres -- rock, pop and R&B. Between 1986 and 2012, The Bostonians produced 12 albums and performed throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. They have sung at Boston Bruins hockey games and on MTV's "The Real World." The Bostonians also had an album nominated for Best Mixed Collegiate Album in the national Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards (CARA).
- The Crosstones: Founded in 1996, The Crosstones is the oldest co-ed a cappella group at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. The group is known for their entertaining performances. The roster is 17 members deep, and the repertoire spans a number of musical genres, from old-school Motown to modern pop. In 2012, Varsity Vocals chose the Crosstones from hundreds of competing submissions for the Best of College A Cappella (BOCA) compilation album.
- Harmonettes: This 12-member group from the University of Michigan is an all-female ensemble that describes itself as "sometimes sassy, always classy." Dating back to 1979, the Harmonettes are the first all-female a cappella group on campus. The group is known for covering a wide range of performers, including The Chordettes, Wham!, The Jackson Five and Fun. You can check it out in videos like Harmonetteflix and Harmageddon.
- Ithacappella: Formerly the Ithaca College Men's Chorus, this 11-member, all-male a cappella group earned a spot on A Cappella Blog's list of 10 can't-miss groups for 2012, which were chosen for their noteworthy accomplishments, recognition and innovation. The group was included on the list not just for its "exceptional, high-octane live show," but also for its charitable contributions; for example, they lead community workshops and sings with elementary school students. The Ithacan reports that the group has joined with other local ensembles to support Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation, which is devoted to making individuals feel more comfortable with their identity.
- Naturally Sharp: This all-male, 11-member group hails from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, or Virginia Tech to the rest of us. According to their website, the Natty boys have been rocking the stage, serenading the ladies and raising the bar for on-stage entertainment since 2002, and they warn that their concerts are to be experienced, not just heard. The group's repertoire spans soulful hits as "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Kiss From a Rose" as well as quirky songs like "No Diggity" and "Fat Bottomed Girls." In performances like "One Thing" -- the group's first ever CD track -- on YouTube, the group manages to blend suavity and humor.
- On The Rocks: Between 1999 and 2012, this all-male group from the University of Oregon has stacked up five studio-recorded albums as well as online videos. Among their YouTube offerings, "Subway Rick Roll" and their version of Lady Gaga's hit song, "Bad Romance," garnered millions of views. On The Rocks suggests that its viral success helped it win a spot on NBC's "The Sing-Off." The album A Fifth won the 2011 CARA honors for Favorite Collegiate Album, while the track "Sing a Song" was chosen for BOCA 2011.
- Redefined: This co-ed group from the University of Wisconsin was founded in 2001, and within a year made the regional round of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, and also sold out the 1,300-seat Wisconsin Union Theater. The 16-member ensemble includes a vocal percussionist. The group does shows several times each year, and, as of 2012, has released several studio albums and performed on Dateline NBC. They describe the Nintendo Medley as one of their most notorious performances, which quickly went viral online.
- Voices in Your Head: This University of Chicago group is unique in that it performs original pieces in addition to pop, R&B, rock and alternative music titles. The 19-member, co-ed group incorporates both undergraduate and graduate students, which is also unusual. The Recorded A Cappella Review Board (RARB) chose the group's album, I Used to Live Alone, for the 2011 RARB Picks of the Year. The 2011 CARA prize in the category of Best Scholastic Original went to "Boomerang," and the 2012 CARA Best Mixed Arrangement award honored "I'd Like To."
- YellowJackets: This seven-member, all-male a cappella group from the University of Rochester is known for their trademark bright yellow blazers and an appearance on NBC's "The Sing-Off." In 2012, the group released its 16th studio album, United We Sing, which was recorded entirely in Kenya. Inspired by their contact with a Kenyan primary school choir, the YellowJackets launched an after-school program -- also called United We Sing -- designed to cultivate a passion for a cappella in local schools. With a repertoire ranging from The Monkees to Taylor Swift, the group sings at benefits for the YMCA as well as groups fighting cancer and autism.
A not-so-quiet riot
A cappella, with its bare-bones vocal simplicity, is not a new musical fad -- barber shop quartets, anyone? Some big stars got their start in these ensembles, like actress Anne Hathaway. The old college glee clubs were little-known road warriors humming on buses as they traveled from school to school. Online videos and the Internet have changed the game, pushing vocal ensembles into the spotlight of popular culture. This recognition brings renewed inspiration, more groups and phenomenal new performances for us to discover.
Featured image courtesy of DZIDA MUSIC