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The A Cappella Blog

The ACB Cool 100: 30-21


The a cappella world is full of cool people, but those individual identities are so often lost in the broader scheme of a cappella groups or institutions. In this 10-part feature we are listing 100 of the coolest people in a cappella.

I based this list on many and varied rationale including overall impact on a cappella and the degree to which people have innovated. There’s a “lifetime achievement” element of it, but also a healthy dose of “what have you done for me lately?” This isn’t just about the greatest a cappella performers (though that certainly plays a role) but equally, if not more so about how much a person has given to the a cappella world, and how cool those contributions have been.

On a side note, if you get too bent out of shape about where someone ranks, or if someone’s omitted, please also keep in mind that you have a guy who voluntarily writes a blog about a cappella evaluating how cool 100 people are—there is some dissonance up in here.

Did we forget some people? Almost certainly. In brainstorming for this countdown, the initial list ran well over 150 names long. Tough decisions had to be made, and besides that, there’s little doubt that we forgot some very cool people. Please feel free to let us hear about it and give your favorite folks their just desserts in the comments section, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

As much as it pains us, and surely invalidates the list to an extent, we have opted to not to include anyone on the regular A Cappella Blog staff on this list.

Here’s the list so far:
100. Heather Newkirk
99. John Baunach
98. DW Routte
97. Laura Long
96. Angela Ugolini
95. Marc Silverberg
94. Warren Bloom
93. Kari Francis
92. Ben Spalding
91. Corey Slutsky
90. Nate Tao
89. Tom Keyes
88. Mark Torres
87. Connaitre Miller
86. Meredith Strang
85. Selame Scarlett
84. Emily Flanders
83. Matt Caruso
82. Seth Johnson
81. Glynn Rankin and Michael Dyck
80. Sarah Vela
79. Katie Gillis
78. Noah Berg
77. Dave Longo
76. Danielle Withers
75. Oluwasegun Oluwadele
74. Therry Thomas
73. Sara Yood
72. Tom Anderson
71. Josh Chopak
70. Roger Thomas
69. Aaron Sperber
68. Mark Joseph
67. Myke Charles
66. Johanna Vinson
65. Sean Patrick Riley
64. Joan Hare
63. Kenley Flowers
62. Mike Jankowski
61. Jeremy Lister
60. David Pinto
59. Scott Henderson
58. McKay Crockett
57. Kenton Chen
56. Meg Alexander
55. Michael Marcus
54. Mike Tompkins
53. Schaeffer Gray
52. Stephen Harrison
51. Dave Sperandio
50. Florian Stadtler
49. Mitch Grassi
48. Allan Webb
47. Jake Hunsaker
46. Jim Diego
45. Thomas King
44. Jonathan Minkoff
43. Mark Hines
42. Elizabeth Banks
41. Lior Kalfo
40. Kirstie Maldonado
39. Chris Crawford
38. Sam Tsui
37. Brianne Holland
36. Christopher Given Harrison
35. Alfredo Austin
34. John Neal
33. Amy Whitcomb
32. Ben Bram
31. Nick Girard

With out further ado, we present 30-21.

30. Ingrid Michaelson Before she made it as one of the more popular indie-folk-singer-song-writers touring today, Michaelson sang with the Binghamtonics, a co-ed group at SUNY Binghamton. Unlike the bevy of celebrities who have shunned their aca-roots, Michaelson has maintained them, singing an a cappella-informed duet with fellow collegiate a cappella alum Sara Bareilles on “Winter Song” and frequently performing a live a cappella cover of REM’s “Nightswimming” at concerts. In so doing, Michaelson is not only a star with an a cappella past, but an artist who maintains and capitalizes upon those origins, and in so doing gives back to the aca-community.

29. Rob Dietz A native of Ithaca, NY, it was only natural that Dietz would go on to attend the local Ithaca College. Less obvious was the fact that he would rise to a cappella prominence while there, performing with incarnations of Ithacappella that made it to the ICCA Finals twice (placing once), and with which he won numerous honors for his outstanding vocal percussion. Since then, Dietz went on to work as an arranger for The Sing-Off, and currently produces, arranges, coaches and blogs for a cappella over at Human-Feedback.com.

28. Andrea Poole After a lengthy career in student a cappella as part of Pine Creek High School Nuance, and then Michigan State Capital Green, it’s only natural that Poole would stay involved in scholastic a cappella competition after graduation. Following three years as the ICHSA Midwest producer, Poole has since taken over as Varsity Vocals’s Director of the ICHSA. In that role, Poole has overseen unparalleled growth in the field as a greater number of groups and a greater depth of talent participate in ICHSAs every single year.

27. Kevin Olusola To say that Olusola is a unique talent would be a pretty profound understatement. After all, he rose to prominence via YouTube by rocking the cello whilst beat boxing. Needless to say the original trio who put together Pentatonix knew what they were doing when they recruited him to their fold. While each component of Pentatonix represents remarkable musical abilities, and the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts, it may be the group’s rhythm section that does more to set group apart than any other audible quality. Olusola provides an incredible rhythmic foundation.

26. Mickey Rapkin While the Pitch Perfect is set to become the next big thing in a cappella this fall, we shouldn’t forget that before it was a movie, it was a pretty remarkable book. While Rapkin has removed himself from the a cappella sphere of late (the GQ editor’s more recent project is all about the sister subject of musical theater) the ripples of his 2008 manuscript are still being felt, and there may be no a cappella groups’ journeys more carefully or profoundly captured than those of Divisi, The Beelzebubs, and The Hullabahoos, from the time Rapkin spent with them.

25. Michael Odokara-Okigbo Though The Sing-Off has seen the rise of many stars, I don’t know that any one person grew more iconic on the show as an individual than Odokara-Okigbo. That’s not meant to take anything away from his Dartmouth Aires, but rather intended drive home that from the moment he marched on stage during My Chemical Romance’s “Sing” on the second-part of the season three premiere, Odokara-Okigbo communicated an unmistakable intensity and urgency: his group had its 15 minutes to work with and he was going to make the most of it. Every solo he had on the episodes to follow positively set the stage on fire. Though Odakara-Okigbo graduated from Dartmouth this spring, you have to imagine we have not yet heard the last of his iconic voice.

24. Courtney Jensen “Girls can’t beatbox.” We’ve all heard the stereotype, and though plenty of counter-examples have stood up proud, none stands taller than Jensen. Jensen not only drummed for all-female Noteworthy as it won an ICCA championship and appeared on the first season of The Sing-Off, but went on to star as the vocal percussionist for the mixed voice Backbeats in her second run on NBC. Since her time on network TV, Jensen has kept busy performing with The Backbeats, filming beatbox tutorials, recording with Peter Hollens, and moonlighting in a lesser-known, non-a cappella series of covers on YouTube with her sister Katie (also of Noteworthy fame).

23. Ingrid Andress After years as one of Pitch Slapped’s brightest stars, Andress’s vocals truly took flight as a soulful counterpoint to Amy Whitcomb’s ripping leads for Delilah, taking the lead on several selections, including the group’s last competition song on NBC, “If I Die Young.” And so, she’s currently a part of two groups with Sing-Off pedigrees, sang as part of the guest groups at both the ICHSA and ICCA Finals this spring, and is just now entering her senior year of college. Did she peak early? It’s too soon to know for sure, but every indication is she’ll continue to move on up in the a cappella world.

22. Lo Barreiro At the turn of the decade, the Florida State University AcaBelles grew into perennial ICCA finalist threats. While there’s no question that confluence of factors and personalities led to this development, there’s also no question that one of the driving forces for innovation and advancement was Barreiro—a feisty musical director and a visionary for all-female a cappella. Since graduating from FSU, Barreiro has arranged, coached and consulted with a range of a cappella groups through The Vocal Company and now Acalosophy. She’s headed a number of sessions at festivals like SoJam. Oh, and she just happened to co-found Musae, an all-female group with some member overlap, but a bit more grooving identity than Delilah, which just the same has performed on a variety of stages throughout the US.

21. Ben Stevens As CASA’s director of education and program manager for festival/event education, Stevens is a key player in coordinating workshops and master classes for SoJam, LAAF, and a variety of other major a cappella gatherings. He has earned more than his fair share of clout for facilitating exceptional sessions of his own at major events, highlighted by his “Essential Listening” series in which he—you guessed it—teaches folks how to listen from a critical perspective. A cappella is a field that’s driven by its scholastic sector, in which the people who continue in the form beyond their school years tend to be life long learners, energized by the exchange of ideas and feedback. In a community for which learning is so key, Stevens emerges as a truly unique leader.

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