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
With out further ado, we present 80-71.
80. Sarah Vela Vocal Rush, out of The Oakland School for the Arts, headed into the 2012 ICHSA Finals with relatively little fanfare, as a Wild Card winner without the national reputation of groups like PFC and Limited Edition. The group took the stage with only its seven female members and proceeded to rock show like no high school group on earth should be able to. The group grooved and harmonized, peaking on its last song, “Let Us Be Loving.” At this point, a stellar group unleashed its superstar soloist. I don’t know that Outstanding Soloist honors have ever been in less doubt than when Vela had wrapped up her tour de force, showing a combination of restraint, intonation, and sheer power that women with twice her experience and training are lucky to broach. Women’s a cappella, Vela is putting y’all notice—the future is now.
79. Katie Gillis In 2012, a fledgling quartet made up of three young women at Towson University and one recent graduate entered its first a cappella competition—the Mid-Atlantic Harmony Sweepstakes. Competing against far more experienced pro, semi-pro and collegiate groups, the ladies didn’t do so bad—you know, they won. From there they headed on to the annual Aca-Idol contest at SingStrong. They won that, too. Building momentum, the group, Girls Quartet (GQ, as they're more commonly known), traveled to the west coast Harmony Sweepstakes Nationals where they finished in second place. Second place in the country. Gillis stands tall as an arranger and organizational force behind the group, bringing together some of the most unique and innovative harmonies a cappella fans have heard in years and drumming up a fan base for what just might be the most unexpected and irresistible aca-sensation of the next decade.
78. Noah Berg A cappella group members who not only sing, but arrange contribute not only to the present sound, but the legacy of their groups. Berg has contributed over 50 a cappella arrangements to his college group, and not to just any college group, but the world-renowned University of Rochester Midnight Ramblers. Prolific and uber-talented, Berg has since extended his reach to Liquid 5th where he arranges (even more) and works as an editing engineer. And what did Berg do after he completed his undergraduate career? He joined the all-male post-collegiate elite, singing for a summer with Hyannis Sound. While we don’t know just yet where Berg will head next, the smart money says he’ll be doing very cool things in the a cappella world.
77. Dave Longo Longo got his start singing with RIT Eight Beat Measure. Since then, he earned a masters certificate in music production at Berklee College of Music and went on to found Sled Dog Studios—a company with live and recorded a cappella productions services that synergizes the best tools with a cappella-specific knowledge--pairing state of the art equipment and an impressive team of his fellow collegiate a cappella alumni. Longo was also a co-founder, key organizer, and audio engineer for the 2011 Social Media and A Cappella Conference at Syracuse University in 2011.
76. Danielle Withers Withers was one of the most distinctive voices at the fore of one of the most distinctive groups in Sing-Off history, Afro-Blue. Taking the lead on songs ranging from the iconic “American Boy” to “American Girl” became a poster child for jazz-pop-aca-fusion. Since the group’s time on NBC came to a close, Withers has kept busy performing across the country with Afro Blue, in addition to serving a judge for the Aca-Idol competition at SingStrong 2012.
75. Oluwasegun Oluwadele When you take a seat at the ICCA Finals, you come to expect musical excellence—marvelous blend and intonation, killer dynamics, visual shows. And solos. You expect really good solos. Well, there are good solos, there are great solos, and then there’s the apotheosis of Oluwadele on “Tightrope” at the 2012 ICCA Finals—a performance that completely won over the crowd and, helped catapult The SoCal VoCals to the ICCA Championship. Between his killer vocals, unparalleled charisma, and energy Oluwadele was a force on the Town Hall stage, and brought the evening to a fitting close by singing lead on the group’s encore as well, “Best Thing I Never Had.” Going into his junior year at USC, he’s the music director for what’s quite arguably the highest profile college a cappella group in the world. Keep an eye out for even bigger things in the years ahead.
74. Therry Thomas In 2010, a group of six young men out of Huntsville, Alabama shocked the a cappella world when their star shone brighter than that of The Backbeats, Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town, and other vaunted acts for them to be crowned the champions of season two of The Sing-Off. More often than not, Thomas stood front and center and embodied everything the group was all about—humble, earnest, and truly vocally gifted. Committed have gone on to sing on stages across the country, in addition to which Thomas was part of a truly remarkable piece of modern recording, collaborating with fellow Sing-Off alumni Peter Hollens and Courtney Jensen for a cover of Justin Bieber’s “Pray” to benefit victims of the March 2011 earthquake in Japan.
73. Sara Yood Following her undergraduate career with The Washington University of St. Louis Amateurs, Yood started a lengthy partnership with Varsity Vocals, which today sees her serving as the producer for the ICCA Finals. This year saw her orchestrate a seamless transition from Lincoln Center to Town Hall for the big night. In addition to organizing the biggest collegiate a cappella show of the year, Yood has sung with NYC post-collegiate group Treble, and her law school group,The Fordaham University Tortfeasors.
72. Tom Anderson Anderson’s accomplishments speak for themselves—the first director of University of Wisconsin Eau Claire Fifth Element, a winner of ICCA and Chicago Harmony Sweepstakes honors for his original songs, an alum of Ball in the House, and the current mastermind behind Random Notes—a website through which Anderson has arranged a cappella pieces for a multitude of collegiate, semi-pro, and professional groups. Tracks with his signature have shown up on Best of Collegiate A Cappella, Sing!, and Voices Only compilations. In addition to arranging work, Anderson serves as Director of Professional Relations for CASA.
71. Josh Chopak One of the fastest rising stars in a cappella, Chopak works in public relations and recording for Liquid 5th and was a big part of organizing the Acapocalypse and Amplify a cappella festivals. He got his start in a cappella in a notable incarnation of The Weston High School Town Criers that landed itself on the Best of High School A Cappella compilation and placed at the International Championship of High School A Cappella Finals. With his prominent work with Liquid 5th over the last two years, it’s hard to remember that he’s only now starting his junior year at Franklin & Marshall; one has to believe that Chopak and his current group, The Chessmen, have nothing but upside in the aca-world for the years ahead.