Northern Kentucky Brotherhood

Barbershop acappella group
finds refuge in its music, lyrics

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

CARROLLTON, Ky. (December 2002) – Male singing groups have held an important place in the preservation of African-American music, according to the Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers. The enduring feature of this music is neither protest nor self-expression, but rather communication.
“Singing is the only thing that can control you once troubles are about. It’s a refuge,” said Brotherhood president Eric Jennings.

Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers

Northern Kentucky
Brotherhood Singers

The Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers are a Covington, Ky.-based all-male group consisting of five to six singers dressed in business suits, singing acappella in a barbershop harmonizing style. They will bring their sounds to Carrollton, Ky., this month when they perform at 1 p.m. on Dec. 11 at the Carroll County Public Library as part of the “Wednesdays at One” series. Their performance is a Kentucky Arts Council presentation.
The group was formed 13 years ago when members of the Ninth Street Baptist Church branched off to form the present group. Jennings said the musical aspect began to weaken and the director, the Rev. Robert Gillespie, grew too sick to continue his duties. Jennings picked up where Gillespie left off.
He said that all six members grew up singing in church choirs. In African-American communities across the United States, quartets and quintets were originally organized to perform in churches, concert halls, lodges, museums and anywhere else they could express their interpretation of the “good news” in the form of gospel music.
Library director Jarrett Boyd had seen them perform at “KY Crafted: The Market” in Louisville and said she was so impressed with them that she booked them for the “Wednesdays at One” series.
Jennings said that the group chooses to sing acappela style because of the natural blending of their voices.
“We blend so easily. We seldom need to rehearse. It takes us back to our fathers that sang in choirs in churches.”
The group has performed in many different venues in Kentucky. They were featured on a segment of Kentucky Educational Television’s “Jubilee,” recorded at the Master Musicians Festival in Somerset, Ky. Jennings said they have also performed several times for former Kentucky Gov. Brereton C. Jones and Gov. Paul E. Patton for KET’s “In Performance at the Governor’s Mansion.”
The group is one of two acappela groups on the roster of the Kentucky State Folk Arts Program of the Kentucky Arts Council. They adopted the group a decade ago after a performance at the Carnegie Arts Center in Covington, Ky.
The Tour of Kentucky Folk Music was organized as part of the Kentucky State Folk Arts Program, said program director Bob Gates. The group was then documented by folk artists and added to the tour’s roster.
There are certain criteria the group had to meet. “We look for history and tradition,” said Gates. “And that tradition is still alive today. Northern Kentucky was full of acappela groups at one time. They draw on that tradition and are an excellent example of this tradition. We’re proud of them.”
The Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers are also gearing up for their third tour of Spain on Dec. 10-24 and Dec. 27, 2002-Jan. 2, 2003. This opportunity presented itself when the Dixie Hummingbirds saw the group perform in Canada.
The Dixie Hummingbirds are one of the oldest permanent groups in the genre. Since 1928, they have built a repertory and style that has undergone a change from spirituals, jubilees and hymns sang in close harmony acappela style, to a gospel sound that reflected the influence of rock music. They are perhaps best known for their rendition of “Love Me Like a Rock.”
Listening to the Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singer’s Canadian performance, the Dixie Hummingbirds were reminded of themselves, said Jennings. In the process of retiring, members of the Dixie Hummingbirds realized that there were not many acappela groups around anymore.
“They took us under their wings,” said Jennings, and introduced them to audiences in Spain.
Currently, the group has two CDs on the market: “Wade In The Water” and “Just A Closer Walk.” Both CDs were recorded in Cincinnati.

• For more information about the upcoming performance in Carrollton, call the Carroll County Public Library at (502) 732-7020.

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