A cappella music is performed by singers without any musical instruments. Collegiate a cappella groups, according to Wikipedia, usually perform a pop-centric music genre. A cappella groups associated with a college are not usually directly affiliated with the school’s music program, but are most often directed and operated by the students. The origins of collegiate a cappella are nebulous, the oldest known collegiate a cappella group being the RPI Glee Club of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, established in 1873. However, a cappella, as vocal music sung with no instruments at all, must be one of the oldest forms of music around. Today, a cappella groups in colleges number over twelve hundred according to some estimates. This article includes 20 of the most outstanding collegiate a cappella groups, old and new, who have resonated with audiences around the world.
Berklee College of Music
Pitch Slapped & Upper Structure
It comes as no surprise that “the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world” should also produce some stunning a capella groups. Pitch Slapped was founded in 2006 and, in the last twelve years has made more than just a name for itself. According to the Pitch Slapped website, the group has been named one of the top five a cappella groups in the country by USA Today, won two International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella competitions in 2001 and 2014. Pitch Slapped also appeared on NBC’s The Sing Off and was featured on America’s Got Talent in 2015. Berklee is the home to four other a cappella groups: CharlieChords, On the Vox, Treble Threat and Upper Structure. Of these, Upper Structure is striking a unique chord with the a cappella world. Another co-ed a cappella group which was founded in 2015, Upper Structure, placed 2nd place in the 2018 ICCA Final and was featured on the Best of Collegiate A Cappella (BOCA) 2018 album.
Northeastern University’s premier co-ed a cappella group, Nor’easters, is the oldest a capella group on campus. They were named champions of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) in 2013 and 2017. The Nor’easters also won the ICCA Wildcard Championship in 2015. They performed for the President and First Lady at the White House Christmas Gala in 2013. They were the feature group on the first season of PopTV’s docu-series, “Sing It On,” performing with John Legend on The View and traveling to New York, Los Angeles and Australia to perform and promote the show.
The Nor’easters have been awarded Best Mixed Collegiate Album for 2013, 2014 and 2018 at the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards. They recently released the first half of a two part album called COLLECTIVE, Vol. 1 for which they received the award in 2018.
University of California Los Angeles
The UCLA ScatterTones were founded in 2002, made their first ICCA appearance in 2004 and in 2007 placed first in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) quarterfinal. They were finalists in the ICCA in 2012 -2014 and won 2nd place each year! They placed 2nd again in the ICCA Finals in 2017. They were the Southwest Champions in 2018. Their success in the last 5 years shows a whole lot of talent that places them easily in the top 20 collegiate a cappella groups in the U.S.
ScatterTones has performed at the Hollywood Bowl, winning first place in the ABBA-Cappella competition. The group has traveled around nationally and flew to Alaska to open for the Grammy award-winning Pentatonix in concert.
The ScatterTones are known for their ballad style and their consistent competitiveness. Their creativity in sets and outstanding arrangements have marked them as an a cappella group worth listening to.
University of Chicago
Voices in Your Head
The University of Chicago is home to several collegiate a cappella groups including Rhythm and Jews, a Jewish singing group, and Golosa, which is Chicago’s only Russian a cappella folk choir. Of special note, however, is Voices in Your Head, a student-run a cappella group of both undergraduate and graduate students which has been performing a cappella since 1998. Their list of awards is impressive and includes frequent advancements to the finals of the ICCA. In 2012, Voices in Your Head received 4th place overall in the ICCA final round. In 2015 and 2017 they placed 2nd. In 2018, Voices in Your Head was a finalist again, placing first and winning Outstanding Arrangement at both their Quarterfinal and their Semifinal going on to win 3rd place in the Finals. In 2014 Voices in Your Head was featured on Best of BOCA and their single, Burn, was selected as A Cappella Review Board’s Single of the Year. In 2016 they performed at the White House and in the same year released its sixth studio album which was chosen for Best Mixed Collegiate Album by CARA. Voices in Your Head arranges all of its own music which spans several genres including pop, R&B, rock and alternative music.
Tufts University oldest male a cappella group, the Beelzebubs, have an impressive history in contemporary a cappella. Their performances, from 1960’s eight-man barbershop to the voices of the Warblers on Fox’s Glee, has firmly established the Beelzebubs in the a cappella world. Their recognitions include: Runner Up on NBC’s “The Sing Off”, over 30 CARA nominations, two time “Best Male Group in the Nation”, eleven selections featured on BOCA and four selections on Voices Only.
The alumni of the Beelzebubs include over 300 members and make up the Beelzebub Alumni Association. The alumni remain active in helping the current group as well as ensuring that “Bubs” from every generation stay connected. Alumni have also been instrumental in beginning the Bubs Foundation which brings music education to communities in Boston where music education is underfunded. They have also created Be the Music, a program where Bubs and alumni join in harmony with the students in order to expose them to the rich world of contemporary a cappella.
The Beelzebubs recent 2017 release, Reboot, was a collaborative work which created intentional parts for each of its members. Every member contributed their own piece to the product, making it creative and unique.
University of Southern California
University of Maryland
The co-ed a cappella group Faux Paz was started in 1992 by members of Treblemakers who were looking to begin a co-ed a cappella group on campus. Faux Paz was first called “The Looney Tunes,” and throughout the last 26 years has become one of the most successful collegiate a cappella groups in the world. In 2014, Faux Paz sang the Maryland Fight Song on ESPN, in 2015 they opened for Jay Leno and interviewed for NPR. Also in 2015, they were ICCA finalists for the first time. In 2016, they won 3rd place over-all at the ICCA Final Event and were featured on “Sing it On.” In 2017, Faux Paz won first place at the Boston Sings A Cappella Festival and also won their first ever CARA (Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards) for Best Collegiate Arrangement. In 2018, they have continued their growing success by winning another CARA for best rock song, and receiving 7 CARA nominations. They also competed in the first ever national A Cappella Convention with 8 other of the nation’s top groups.
University of Oregon
On the Rocks
On the Rocks, hailing from the University of Oregon on the west coast, was founded by Peter Hollens and Leo Da Silva. They are famous for their version of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Their talent drew over 6.5 million views on YouTube. The premiere all-male a cappella group from the University of Oregon, On the Rocks, has been singing since 1999. They have produced six studio albums, more than one viral video and have been featured on NBC’s The Sing Off. On the Rocks has gone on numerous national tours and has performed with A-list Artists including Boyz 2 Men and Kid Cudi.
On the Rocks recently produced their seventh studio album named Sunset Blush, which was released in April of 2018. They were contacted by NBC in 2017 to audition for a limited-run holiday season series. The competition is held with just 10 a cappella groups who compete for a $100,000 prize and a Sony Music recording contract. They perform every Friday on the University of Oregon campus for their collegiate community who “has been there for them from the beginning.”
The Whiffenpoofs are a millenium old collegiate a cappella singing group established at Yale University. Founded in 1909, it is the oldest a cappella group in the United States. Made up exclusively of Yale seniors, the Whiffenpoofs change members from year to year. Their most famous former member, Cole Porter, sang in the group in 1913. The ensemble often sings Porter songs in tribute. The Whiffenpoofs perform near the Yale campus and tour the United States and internationally every year.
The Whiffenpoofs have performed, over the years, in a number of illustrious places. These include the Lincoln Center, the White House, the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Oakland Coliseum, Carnegie Hall and the Rose Bowl. They have appeared on Jeopardy!, The Today Show, Saturday Night Live, 60 Minutes, Gilmore Girls, The West Wing and Glee.
The Whiffenpoofs are best known for their “Whiffenpoof Song” which was published in sheet music in 1909. The song is derived from the poem “Gentlemen Rankers” by Rudyard Kipling. In the lyrics, “Mory’s” refers to Mory’s Temple Bar, a restaurant next to the campus where the Whiffenpoofs still perform every week. The song became a hit for Rudy Vallee in 1937 and Bing Crosby in 1947. It has also been recorded by Elvis Presley, Count Basie, Perry Como, Ray Conniff, Mitch Miller, the Ames Brothers, the Statler Brothers and others.
University of Texas at Arlington
The newest group on our list, founded in 2016, is Rise, from the University of Texas at Arlington. The co-ed a cappella group, Rise, has been doing just that in the UTA and a cappella community. Their first studio EP, On the Rise, was recorded last year, directed by Caleb Moore, the founder of the group. They have sung on Patti LaBelle’s Christmas album and have also filmed a national Cheerios commercial in partnership with Walmart.
Focusing on piecing together their sound and choreography as well as updating their set, Rise competed in the 2018 International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. Rise placed second in the Quarterfinals, first in the Semifinals and advanced to the Finals of the ICCA. An impressive beginning for a group only 2 years old. Though not placing in the top 3 winners at the FinalCompetition, Rise still pulled off a special award for Outstanding Arrangement for “Rise Up.” Rise was also recently nominated for a Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award for Best Original Song, “Where Do I Find That?”
OwlCappella is the first co-ed a cappella group at Temple University. Founded in the 2010, Owlcappella performs various musical styles including pop and jazz. In the last nine years, OwlCappella has gained significant notoriety recording several EP’s and performing at some incredible venues. These include a performance at the White House for the 2016 holiday season, opening the red carpet at the Philadelphia Auto Show’s Annual Black-tie Event multiple times, and opening the 85th Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.
In 2018, OwlCappella competed in its first ever ICCA competition. After placing in the Quarterfinals and winning first place in the Semifinals, Rise became one of the 10 finalists for the 2018 awards. They won several special awards for their arrangements, choreography and vocal percussion.
OwlCappella performs at local venues such as the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Art Museum. They host their own Spooktacular concert every year and perform music each semester at their Winter/Spring concerts on Temple University campus.
The Potsdam Pitches
The Potsdam Pitches is one of four student-led a cappella groups at SUNY Potsdam. According to their website, Sociological Images published a blog post which found that SUNY Potsdam is one of the top universities for competitive a cappella in the country. The study was based on how often its groups have placed in ICCA competitions over the last 12 years. The Potsdam Pitches confirmed that study this year. The co-ed group won the 2018 ICCA Central Semifinals and also became one of the 10 groups to advance to the Final Competition. They also won a special award for Outstanding Arrangement for Holden Maiorana’s version of the Whitney Houston hit, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
Founded in 2007, the Potsdam Pitches have taken first place before at the 2017 and 2018 ICCA Central Quarterfinals and they won third place in the 2017 Semifinals. They are recording their third EP which includes this year’s award-winning set. They are the first SUNY Potsdam a cappella group to become a finalist in the ICCA competition.
Missouri State University
The BearTones, from Missouri State University is an all-male a cappella group. Founded in 2000, The BearTones “have always been a group that’s focused on musical excellence, brotherhood, and having a good time.” According to their website, they are renowned for their “polished” and “memorable” sets and have performed numerous times across the country.
The Beartones placed third internationally in the ICCA competition in 2009. They have placed consistently at both the Quarterfinal and Semifinal rounds. In 2018, Beartones proved themselves again by becoming finalists in the ICCA competition for a second time which makes them the best collegiate acapella group in the Midwest for 2018. They also received a special individual award for outstanding choreography for the a cappella group’s entire set. Beartones is looking to record their 10th album to showcase the growth of the group from 15 to 20 members. The album will be professionally recorded, edited and mixed by the Vocal Company, a production company specializing in a cappella.
The After School Specials
A collegiate group from the Claremont Colleges, consisting of students from all five of the Claremont Colleges, is The After School Specials. They are recognizable by the signature green A.S.S. hats and all shades of green. Their music, which is all arranged by the group, includes all genres of popular music from hip hop to rock and roll.
The After School Specials have performed and recorded at a number of venues. These include The Fonda Theatre, Diane Warren’s recording studio and the White House. In 2018, The After School Specials won the wildcard competition in the 2018 International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA). They performed in the Finals at Beacon Theatre on Broadway. They were the first Claremont Colleges a cappella group to advance so far in an ICCA competition. Though they didn’t place in the top 3 finalists, The After School Specials won a special award for Outstanding Soloist for Perrin York’s “Greedy.” The group also performed “These Walls” by Kendrick Lamar and “Jealous” by Labrinth.
Opportunes and Lowkeys
Harvard University has no less than 14 a cappella groups affiliated with the university. Two of these groups of very talented students deserve special mention on our list.
The Opportunes, Harvard’s oldest co-ed a cappella ensemble was founded in 1980. Their style ranges from the “funky classics of Marvin Gave” to the “groovy anthems of Michael Jackson.” The Opportunes have excelled at both national and international levels. They have performed and won many award in the ICCA competitions, including Outstanding Soloist on multiple occasions. In 2018 the Opportunes were placed as the first-runners up at the ICCA Northeast region semifinals as well as two Outstanding Soloist Awards. The Recorded A Cappella Review Board said of the Opportunes that “The most notable strength of the group is their depth of talent.”
The Harvard LowKeys is another Harvard co-ed a cappella group with a history at the ICCA and in the a cappella world. They are four-time ICCA Northeast Quarterfinal Champions and two-time Quarterfinal Runner-Ups. The Opportunes have advanced to the ICCA Northeast Semifinal six times in their 19 year history and have placed 3rd at the ICCA Northeast Semifinal twice. The LowKeys have received no less than 13 special awards at the ICCA. In 2018 they were named Quarterfinal Champions and placed third in the ICCA Northeast Semifinal. The LowKeys have been featured on Best of College A Cappella and Voices Only as well as Season 3 of Sing That Thing! in 2017.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Logarhythms have been around for a while. For over 65 years they have established themselves as consistently worth listening to. Established in 1949 as an all male a cappella group, they sang barbershop tunes and built a fan base in Cambridge. In the late 1990s, the Logarhythms branched out into gospel, doo-wop and modern hits performing at MIT’s commencement. Since then they have also included all kinds of popular music from R&B ballads to Rock jams.
The Logarhythms have recorded several albums and perform, in their fall and spring tours, off campus. They have toured the country all the way to California, Texas, Ohio, New York, and all of New England and at Fenway Park for a Red Sox game. They credit their success with the constant support of the Alumni of the Logarhythms who continue to be involved with the group and even write their arrangements. Their signature repertoire includes the Log’s theme song, “Superlogs” and the serenade arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” as well as “Take Me Back to Tech,” a traditional MIT song written more than 100 years ago.
Brigham Young University
Noteworthy and Vocal Point
Brigham Young University is no stranger to a cappella. They have 13 a cappella groups and an a cappella club. The club promotes a cappella music on the campus of BYU. The two groups on our list, Vocal Point and Noteworthy are two of the only groups on our list that are not student run. Vocal Point, was founded by students, however, in 1991, in order to bring the a cappella sound to the west. The nine member all male group became an instant on campus hit, selling out its first concert. In 1994, the ensemble was adopted into the School of Music which allowed for a full-time director and the assistance from the staff of the School of Music. In 2006 Vocal Point were the International Champions of the ICCA.
Noteworthy is BYU’s top female a cappella group. They also became International Champions of a cappella in 2007. Noteworthy has appeared on “The Sing-Off” on NBC and have a had a successful population of YouTube. Their music video “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” went viral with over three million views in two weeks. Their repertoire includes rock, pop, country, jazz, R&B and spiritual music.
Amazin’ Blue is the oldest of the University of Michigan’s co-ed a cappella groups and is also one of the university-sponsored ensembles on our list. It may not be immediately obvious but their name is a pun on the U of M colors, maize and blue. Amazin’ Blue was founded in 1987 and has produced no less than 15 studio albums! They recently reached a milestone by selecting their 200th member to the group. They have won the most awards at University of Michigan and sing a mix of pop, rock and jazz.
Amazin’Blue has won seven CARA awards, had tracks on ten BOCA albums and been awarded a whopping 35 times at ICCA competitions. They have appeared at the finals of the ICCA and had numerous trips and placements at semifinals and quarterfinals. In 2015, Amazin’ Blue was awarded the Accolades Award for Outstanding Achievement in A Cappella and the Michigan Difference Student Leadership Award. They have sung with Michael Buble, Diane Birch, the Sing-Off Tour and Straight No Chaser among others.
University of West Virginia
The Hullabahoos were not the first all-male a cappella group on campus at the University of Virginia. According to the Wikipedia, The Virginia Gentlemen were founded in 1953 and wear tuxedos or coats and bowties when they perform. The Hullabahoos decided to be different and adorned themselves in uniquely patterned robes. According to the website of the Hullabahoos, “The Hullabahoos were founded…in 1987, when some guys got together and said, ‘Hey, let’s sing…and wear robes while we do it.’ So they did.” The story is that each member of the group goes to Mr. Hank’s Fabric Store in Charlottesville to pick out their desired robe pattern.
But the Hullabahoos do more than just look great, they have also recorded an astounding 19 studio albums which have brought them recognition in the a cappella world. Their tracks have been featured on the Best of College A Cappella compilation album 6 times. Since 2004, The Hullabahoos have been featured on Voices Only, won National Collegiate Album of the Year and have also been featured by media outlets including GQ, US News & World Report and Good Morning America. They have performed for 2 Presidents, Nike Headquarters and the Democratic Caucus. They also appeared in the movie Pitch Perfect and on The Office. The Hullabahoos hold annual Fall, Winter and Spring concerts at the University of Virginia.