The Barbershop Harmony Society is inviting women to be full members of the organization for the first time, effective immediately. The Nashville-based umbrella group says the decision is part of a "new strategic vision" meant to be more inclusive and welcome people of all races, sexual orientations, political opinions and spiritual beliefs.
Throughout its 80 years, the international association has been unapologetically male, while more recently allowing women to become "associate" members. But as the Harmony Society rolls have bottomed out at around 20,000, the group for women barbershoppers, called the Sweet Adelines, is slightly larger now at 22,000 members.
Barbershop CEO Marty Monson says he's not trying to steal dues-paying members, but rather embrace where the singing style is headed — to mixed-gender groups.
"The younger generation is very open to more of that in the future, so it's a balance," he says.
Much like the Boy Scouts have given flexibility to individual troops, barbershop chapters can remain all-male, start a femal chorus or combine.
"We think all three can coexist at the same time and be supported," he says. "But we will lose some, and we will feel really bad for that."
The announcement comes just days before the annual convention in Orlando next month.
The president of the Tusla-based Sweet Adelines, Patty Cobb-Baker, says she saw the decision coming, though her group wasn't notified officially until last week. She feels a bit defensive like the Girl Scouts did. But she says her organization wants to support any effort that brings more people together to sing.
"It's always a good thing when there are opportunities for people to sing in this world," she says, while noting that her organization has no plans to go co-ed. "We believe in our mission as a women's organization."