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The ACB Cool 100: 40-31


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

With out further ado, we present 40-31.

40. Kirstie Maldonado In a Sing-Off season three field that included Sonos and Delilah, who would have thought that one of the most memorable female vocalists to emerge would be a 19-year-old young woman with minimal national reputation up to that point? Sure enough, Maldonado proved to be a key piece of Pentatonix’s puzzle of domination, offering a down to earth likability and distinctive female vocal to diverge from the Scott Hoying solos and keep Pentatonix interesting down-the-stretch. The group has remained busy touring and recording since the end of the show, and Maldonado, like her groupmates has been especially social media friendly, connecting with her fan base.

39. Chris Crawford ICHSA champions Vocal Rush. ICCA Finals audience favorites Voices in Your Head. Sing Off stars, The Deltones. Pitch Slapped. The House Jacks. Peter Hollens. What do they all have in common? Each and every one of these top flight a cappella acts has done business with A Cappella Records, quite arguably the premier a cappella licensing and distribution label in the world. ACR was the brainchild of Crawford, who currently serves as its president. Prior to starting the company, Crawford founded and directed two a cappella groups at his alma mater, UC Santa Cruz—Acquire A Cappella and The HighTones.

38. Sam Tsui At the 2010 ICCA Finals, Sam Tsui turned in one of collegiate a cappella’s most remarkable solos in recent memories, positively killing it on Barenaked Ladies’ “What A Good Boy.” This was only the start for Tsui who from there released some highly successful one-man band multi-track a cappella covers on YouTube, in addition to performances with instrumental accompaniment, teaming with friends from Yale. You know you’re pretty cool in the a cappella world when NBC invites to host behind-the-scenes footage of The Sing-Off for its official website. Tsui is truly a self-made star in a cappella.

37. Brianne Holland Holland is truly one of a cappella’s fastest rising stars. Consider: Holland only got involved in a cappella in 2009. Today? She’s the president of University of Chicago Voices in Your Head, the ICCA Finals act many felt should have taken home the championship in 2012 (and that did win top honors at the BOSS collegiate competition). She’s entering her second year as music director of Men in Drag, an all-female group that’s pushing boundaries and winning numerous accolades in its own right. Putting all of that aside, Holland is CASA’s new program assistant for education, she’s started and is directing a group at her old high school, and has had a major hand in planning this fall’s ACappellaFest in Chicago.

36. Christopher Given Harrison Going into season three of the The Sing-Off, there was Sonos, and there was everybody else. For a cappella aficionados, Sonos had represented the cream of the crop for post-collegiate a cappella for several years, and it seemed a foregone conclusion they were headed to the late stages of the show, if not winning it all. In hindsight, it’s clearer that deft use of looping pedals contributed to the group’s sound, and how, in a show without them, the group wasn’t quite the same (not to mention that the group's make up shifted shortly before show time). Rather than belaboring the debate about pedals’ place in The Sing-Off and in a cappella in general, let’s, instead, focus on what Sonos was and is—the group that Pentatonix members have openly stated they aspired to be like; the group that has won bucket loads of Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards; and quite arguably a cappella’s hippest pre-Sing-Off live act. Like most groups on The Sing-Off the producers zeroed in on one figure as the “lead” for the group. In this case, it was Given Harrison, an LA native who won the 2011 A Cappella Community Award for favorite arranger and just happened to sing in college with a little-known vocal talent named Sara Bareilles. Cool enough? Cool enough.

35. Alfredo Austin When I first heard Austin sing, it was 2007, the debut year of The A Cappella Blog, and he took the solo on a Stevie Wonder song, fronting University of Delaware Vocal Point. I knew right then that I had heard something special. Since graduating, Austin spent three summers singing with the prestigious Hyannis Sound, and is now one of the highest profile members of Boston’s all-male professional sensation Overboard, with whom his iconic solo on “Free Bird” has positively set the audiences on fire at a variety of venues, including SoJam 2011. Besides that, he's now a key part of The Exchange a quintet for which he sings alongside Christopher Diaz and alums of The Yellow Jackets. I’d go so far as to call Austin one of the top five a cappella singers today to have not appeared on The Sing-Off--and his existence alone makes the case all the stronger that we need a fourth season of the show!

34.John Neal When it comes to “big picture” a cappella, Neal is the man. He’s the owner of Primarily A Cappella, one of the biggest vendors for arrangements and recordings anywhere in the world. Furthermore, he’s the executive producer for Harmony Sweepstakes, a fast-growing competition that transcends scholastic and semi-pro lines to bring the very best in a cappella together. As if all this weren’t enough, Neal is the voice behind choral news aggregator and blog A Cappella News.

33. Amy Whitcomb When Delilah took shape, combining vocal talents from Noteworthy, Pitch Slapped, Voices of Lee, Eleventh Hour and Divisi, epic things were sure to follow. By Sing-Off convention, someone has to take the lead, and when the top women in the country came together, it was Whitcomb who more often than not stood at the fore, turning in unreal solos on songs ranging from “Grenade” to “Dream On.” Delilah, and Whitcomb in particular, made the case that women cannot only hold their own in the a cappella world—they can be rock stars.

32. Ben Bram Just how cool is Bram? Let’s see. He was a member of The SoCal VoCals when they won their first two ICCA championships, including a stint as their director. He worked behind the scenes as an arranger and consultant for two seasons of The Sing-Off, and subsequently went on to play a similar role for this fall’s major motion picture Pitch Perfect. All that, and he just happens to currently work as the tour manager and producer for Pentatonix. Long story short, if it’s cool and it’s a cappella, there’s a pretty good chance Bram has a hand in it.

31. Nick Girard What’s a guy to do when he’s not singing with one of the most celebrated professional a cappella groups of all time, The House Jacks? Well, among other things, I suppose he could direct one of the most celebrated next generation a cappella groups on the opposite coast, Overboard, which he just happened to found in 2006. Indeed Girard is a major player in all-male post-collegiate a cappella, as a key member of both of the aforementioned ensembles, backed by the experiences of singing in college with the University of Vermont Top Cats, and having served as an audio engineer on season three of The Sing-Off.

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