CAN 10.4 April 2000

In this second installment of the CAN series, CASA Founder Deke Sharon shares a peek into the a cappella community in the year 2000. Enjoy snapshots of Rockapella, Gabe Mann, and John Legend!

Let’s take a look back at the CARAs twenty years ago and see what tidbits of history await us!

Ah yes, Rockapella. Was there a more lauded a cappella group two decades ago? Certainly not in the CASA annals, as the group was prolific, ubiquitous, and beloved. Sean Altman had left by this point but not Elliott or Barry (both original members), with Scott Leonard holding down front man duties (and penning a songwriting article later in this edition).

Spiralmouth took best album honors, with good reason: their craft and edge had a huge impact on the community. Leader Gabe Rutman would go on to be known as Gabe Mann, and to this day is well known in LA songwriting and scoring circles (he’s the man behind the music on Modern Family, among other shows). He was also the first person I’d hired to work for my arranging service, which he did through the 90s. You can see his opinion “is a cappella cool?” On page 13 and an ad for his first solo album on the following page.

The masthead! Page two! This list of ambassadors fills me with joy, as each was working in their region to spread the gospel of contemporary a cappella. This was before any of the major media properties (Glee, Pitch Perfect, the Sing Off) that made a cappella a household name, so it was these people that you have to thank for planting the early seeds.

Note that I refer to as the “A cappella Almanac” - a pre-wikipedia positioning of the web site as the go-to resource for a cappella online. Back then it had a calendar, searchable database, and many other things that were far easier when the community was a fraction of its current size.

Without online news, Twitter, Facebook and the like, pages 3-4 were the place people would get their updates about the community at large, from a Grammy win by Chanticleer to Jake Moulton’s move from Kickshaw to M-Pact (he’d later join The House Jacks and Mosaic), and the passing of the legendary Jester Hariston. New albums by the Kinsey Sicks, Sweet Honey in the Rock and The Swingle Singers now seem like they’ve always been around but back then were brand new.

It was not yet the ICCA, still the NCCA (a play on NCAA, as I set out to create a “March Madness” of a cappella). Nice to see USC’s SoCal Vocals take first place regionally, but they lost to the UC Berkeley Men’s Octet. I wonder how they’ll do in future years...

Back to the CARAs: the Best Doo Wop album and song are a reflection of the fact that the style was still alive and well (alas now only a couple of groups are truly maintaining it, unlike Barbershop with hundreds of ensembles and tens of thousands of singers thanks to several fantastic organizations). Naturally 7’s “Bless This House” off their first album takes runner up for best song, back when they were still hewing close to the Take 6 model.

John R Stephens won the Best Mixed Collegiate Arranger award for his work with the U Penn Counterparts. That kid should stick with music…oh wait, he did. He’s now known as John Legend.

Wrapping up this edition is the a cappella calendar, which was not every single a cappella concert, but a good sampling of them, particularly for professional groups (who were better about sending in their dates).

Even without major media attention, our little a cappella community was alive and well two decades ago.