Performance: All in Good Taste?
What's it all about?
Societal attitudes toward diversity, equality and inclusivity continue to evolve and consequently, all performers should be proactively researching their songs and performance choices to ensure they do not cause offence in relation to minority groups and those with protected characteristics – more information about diversity and inclusion is available on the diversity & inclusion
Why is this important?
The Performance Category
is responsible for assessing good taste under LABBS contest rules
. Whilst all protected characteristics will be considered when judging good taste, the issue of race is of particular importance due to the lyrical content and performance history of some barbershop arrangements, coupled with ongoing changes in societal expectations.
A few barbershop songs and performance styles, that were once considered entertaining, are no longer acceptable and would now be likely to attract a penalty from the Performance Category if sung in contest. We hope that unacceptable songs would not have a place in singout repertoire either.
Barbershop is rooted in African American music, but some song lyrics contain derogatory song lyrics due to their origins within the minstrelsy tradition. For example, some songs portray black people as lazy, stupid, sly and ignorant, either within the lyric or on the front cover of the music chart, whilst others paint a mythical nostalgic view of the American South (often referred to as ‘home') that ignores the brutal conditions and racist attitudes experienced by black communities since the time of slavery and into contemporary society.
Whilst we have previously happily sung and enjoyed these songs, oblivious to their meaning and the offence they may cause, we now know better. As responsible performers, we should take steps to remove potentially offensive songs/performances from our repertoire. Through knowledge we have the opportunity to make more informed, appropriate, inclusive and equally entertaining choices.
What should you do now?
- Refamiliarize yourself with the contest rules and penalties in relation to good taste, available on the contest rules page, in the BHS extract document.
- Research your songs (prior to purchase would be a good idea) to ensure they do not originate in or are well-known in another art-form that may now cause the song to be considered poor taste
- Develop your own knowledge so that you can continue to make informed music and performance choices
Researching songs – what to consider
For each song. or all songs comprising a medley, carry out research to:
- Establish the:
- Original title
- Composer and lyricist – what else have they written/composed? – this may give clues to the theme/message of your song
- Establish a song’s history:
- When was the song written?
- For what purpose was it written? – e.g. a film, Music Hall or a specific performer
- Performance history - Who first performed the song and who has performed it since?
- Is there anything inappropriate about any of the performances?
- Find the earliest recording/video of a song’s performance – is there anything about the performance that could now cause offence, such as a blackface performance or the presentation of a nostalgic longing for the Antebellum South?
- Find a copy of the original sheet music online – does the artwork on the cover give clues about the song’s theme or performance history? For example, depiction of a ‘Dandy’, a scruffy ‘Jim Crow’ character or a ‘Mammy’ (derogatory African American stereotypes featured in blackface minstrelsy).
- Identify and read the song’s original lyrics:
- Would the song’s message or any of the original lyrics be considered inappropriate in contemporary society?
- Are the lyrics of your proposed arrangement different from the original lyrics, if so, to what extent? Changing or removing offensive lyrics does not automatically render an inappropriate song acceptable.
There is a wealth of information online - always use reputable sources to support your research. Wikipedia contains inaccuracies, so always find at least one additional source for corroboration. Here are a few sites to help you get started:
If, having completed
your own research, you need further advice or clarification on your findings, requests should be emailed to the Performance Judging Category
. To avoid delays, all enquiries must include
- Details of the specific information/support you require
- A copy of the sheet music
- A copy of your completed research, including links to your online references.
All requests will be considered by the Performance Category and a formal response will be returned within 14 days of submission.