The Barbershop Harmony Society, legally and historically named the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. (SPEBSQSA), is the first of several organizations to promote and preserve barbershop music as an art form. Founded by Owen C. Cash and Rupert I. Hall in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1938, the organization quickly grew, promoting barbershop harmony among men of all ages. As of 2012, just under 25,000 men in the United States and Canada are members of this organization whose focus is on a cappella music. The international headquarters was in Kenosha, Wisconsin for fifty years before moving to Nashville, Tennessee in 2007.
A parallel women's singing organization, Sweet Adelines International (SAI) was founded in 1945. A second women's barbershop harmony organization, Harmony, Inc., broke from SAI in 1959 over an issue of racial exclusion, with SAI (like SPEBSQSA) being a white-only organization at that time. Several international affiliate organizations, in countries around the world, add their own flavor to the signature sound of barbershop harmony. See barbershop music for more on these organizations.
The original name SPEBSQSA was intended as a lampoon on Roosevelt's New Dealalphabet agencies. Because of name's length and the difficult-to-pronounce acronym, society staff and members often refer to SPEBSQSA as The Society. For decades, SPEBSQSA was the official name, while the Barbershop Harmony Society was an officially recognized and sanctioned alternate. Members were encouraged to use the alternate name, because it was felt that the official name was an in-joke that did not resonate outside the Society. In mid-2004, faced with declining membership, the Society adopted a marketing plan that called for using "Barbershop Harmony Society" consistently and retaining the old name for certain legal purposes.
The old official name spelled "barber shop" as two words, while barbershop is generally used elsewhere.
In reference to the acronym SPEBSQSA, The Society has said "attempts to pronounce the name are discouraged". Unofficially, it is sometimes pronounced as if it were spelled "Spebsqua".
In late 2004, the Society established Barbershop Harmony Society as its new "brand name", with a logo and identity program released in 2005. Although the legal name remained SPEBSQSA, Inc., the decision was controversial, as many members felt that the new name did not reflect a mission of preservation and encouragement of the style. Many members were concerned that the term "quartet" had been dropped, fearing a movement in the direction of choral singing and downplaying quartet singing.
A key aspect of the Society's mission is in the preservation of barbershop music. To this end, it maintains the Old Songs Library. Holding over 100,000 titles (750,000 sheets) this is the largest sheet music collection in the world excepting only the Library of Congress.
The "Barberpole Cat Program" is an essential repertoire of 12 songs (commonly known as "polecats") that every barbershopper should know. The purpose of this program is to give all barbershoppers a common repertoire so that any new quartet will have something already prepared to sing.
The Harmony Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, was incorporated in 1959 as a charitable subsidiary of the Barbershop Harmony Society; it raises financial support for the society's programs.
In 2006 the Society announced plans to move its headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee. In August 2007, the Society completed the relocation to 110 Seventh Avenue North, in Nashville.
To promote and improve barbershop singing, the society annually runs international and district level contests for choruses and quartets.
When a quartet wins the international gold medal, they are considered champions forever and may not compete again. A chorus that wins the gold, however, must sit out of competition for only two years and thus may compete for the gold medal again in the third year following their win.
The Vocal Majority, based in Dallas, TX, eleven-time International Chorus Champions (1975, 1979, 1982, 1985, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006). The chorus with the most international gold medals, the last ten of which were in succession, each time the chorus was eligible to compete until 2009.
The Ambassadors of Harmony, based in St. Charles, MO, International Chorus Champions in 2004, 2009 and 2012. Their 2009 championship ended Vocal Majority's streak of 10 consecutive championships.
The Masters of Harmony, eight-time International Chorus Champions (1990, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011).
The Westminster Chorus, a youth barbershop chorus in California started by young members of the Masters of Harmony, 2006 Silver Medalist, and International Champion in 2007 and 2010.
The Louisville Thoroughbreds Chorus, the first 7-time International Champion chorus of the Barbershop Harmony Society, winning the Gold Medal in 1962, 1966, 1969, 1974, 1978, 1981 and 1984.
Districts of BHS 
For purposes of administration (particularly of local schools and contests) the society is organized into geographical districts as illustrated.
Pioneer District — most of Michigan; central and far southern Ontario: 28 chapters. It became the first organized district of the S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A / Barbershop Harmony Society on June 8, 1940 and the first International District in March 1944.
^Averill, Gage (2003), Four Parts: No Waiting, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-511672-0, p. 132: "Sweet Adelines had no black members, and no one was aware of any black singers who had petitioned to join the organization. Still, the board argued that there had always been tacit agreement about racial exclusion and it was time to formalize this policy...."
^SAI and SPEBSQSA lifted their restriction a few years later.