In Celebration of the Human Voice - The Essential Musical Instrument

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Rockapella History


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Based in: New York City, United States.

Members: Jeff Thacher, Scott Leonard, Calvin Jones, Bryant Vance, Jose Rodriguez
Former Members: Sean Altman, Barry Carl, George Baldi, Mitchell Rains, Elliott Kerman , Steve Keyes, Kevin Wright, John K. Brown, David Stix

Gleefully, they are NOT your childhood Rockapella. Rather they've become one of the world's most sophisticated and lasting pop vocal groups. With the wild success of the TV smash "Glee" and a cappella groups reigning in the Corner of Cool on college campuses, there is clearly a hunger for exciting live vocal performance. A single concert opens a window on practically the whole history of vocal music from vintage Mills Brothers through jazz and rock to current Hip Hop.

Another bonding element in Rockapella is that all of the singers are veterans of the Disney talent-development enterprise. "Disney is a breeding ground for good performers - it's like the Hamburg Club was for the Beatles," says Steven, the group's newest member, who starred in Disney's Festival of The Lion King. "You have to bring your 'A' game at least 3 or 4 times a day within 6 hour shifts, five days a week at Disney. You can't get tired. You have to take care of your voice. You've got to stay in shape so you can get in there and survive and be consistent." (Thank you, Walt!)

Naturally, Rockapella is a moniker that describes their artful meld of rock and a cappella. The group is best known in the US as the innovative entertainers whose clever wit, shtick and tunes were the jet-thrusters for the 295 episodic voyages of the PBS kid-TV smash "Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego?" The 10 million kids (and parents!) who tuned in weekly during its heyday from 1991-1996 have created a powerful family fan base for the group. The show's theme song is STILL the group's most downloaded song. "It's almost like our national anthem," laughs John Brown.

The versatile group has been all over the entertainment map appearing early on in the PBS "Do It A Cappella" special hosted by Spike Lee. They've also guested with Whoopi Goldberg on her TV specials. "These guys knock the shit out of me; they're amazing," she Whoops. The Rocka-resume also includes jingles for Folgers coffee and Almond Joy; custom promos for "Today Show;" and an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.

The group has also stretched out occasionally of late into the instrumental world, accepting an invitation to perform with the Boston Pops Orchestra. "It was something new for us," says Scott, who helped to create special arrangements for the concerts for BOTH Rockapella and the Pops. "It's a thrill to have that wall of sound coming from behind you. Besides it gave me a chance to satisfy my urge to arrange for new instruments and indulge my fascination for Glenn Miller-style Big Band arrangements that I loved growing up."

Rockapella has indeed travelled far in the sonic solar system since their early collegiate roots, when an enthusiastic a cappella quartet of Brown University graduates started singing Doo Wop on New York City's street corners in 1986. Over the decades Rockapella has evolved into a high energy concert performance troupe that travels the globe giving at least 80 concerts a year. "It is not just about the pretty notes and the nice singing," comments John, who is a veteran of Broadway shows - and is a mean tap dancer to boot. "It is a whole thing: the presence we give off, the little comedy bits, the timing and interacting, both during and after the show." Adds George, "Concerts give us the chance to be both creative and spontaneous since something new may happen to us during the day that we can bring into the show."

Because of the universal appeal of vocal music, Rockapella attracts an avid international following that takes them regularly to such exotic locales as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, Switzerland and Germany. The group often performs a song or two in the native tongue of the country they are visiting. Their stardom is particularly luminous in Japan, where Scott began his professional music career performing at Disneyland Tokyo and enjoyed a solo career that eventually led to Rockapella's first recording contract. "What we do is really trans-cultural; we are ambassadors," says Scott, who has become fluent in both Japanese and German to better connect with the audience. "When you make that extra effort to connect with people with their language and show an awareness of their own customs and popular music, they are yours forever."
Group Videos

Media Articles
New York Times, Rockapella Sings Nostalgic a Cappella at Feinsteinís/54 Below

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