Feb 27, 2019–They call it “human music.”
“It’s just us and microphones,” explained Scott Leonard of Rockapella, the most sophisticated, lasting, and imitated vocal groups around today, according to their blurbs. “People find it hard to believe there are no instruments. Most of what we do is singing, contrapuntal intricate singing, but even the rhythm track is all vocals. There is nothing else between us and the audience.”
While a cappella singing has existed since our forebears first grunted around a campfire, Rockapella was pivotal in bringing the musical form to a peak of popularity starting in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The New York based vocal group first paid the bills by singing TV commercial jingles, including ones for Dr Pepper, Doritos, AFLAC, and most famously, Folgers Coffee–“The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup!” I dare you to not hear that inside your head now.
That one line had such an impact on the TV-viewing public, it “got us a record deal.”
“After we did the Folgers jingle, 90% of the American public saw the spot,” said Leonard, “the last guy left” from that original group. “Before that, we had a record deal in Japan, but couldn’t get one in the United States.”
That led to their big break–and when I first became aware of their sound–when they were the resident singers on the PBS program Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego? (Again, I dare you not be singing that refrain as you read on.)
Rockapella were also featured in a Spike Lee 1990 PBS Great Performances Episode Do It A Cappella.
Their ground-breaking work inspired a generation of a cappella artists, which even Leonard has a hard time comprehending.
“It’s wild to watch the interest in a cappella rise,” he said. “When the germ of Rockapella started at Brown University in the late 80s, there wasn’t much contemporary a cappella. Now it seems like every middle school in Thailand has a group! And you see shows like Pitch Perfect. We helped spawn those movements.”
Like everything else, Rockapella’s style and repertoire have evolved and expanded. They now do all-vocal takes on rock, blues, and originals, even going back to classic crooners like the Mills Brothers.
And they’ve gotten a lot “funkier.”
“We’ve gone from four guys standing on a street corner, to doing more rhythm and blues, with more staging and movement, sort of like the Temptations,” he said. “There’s a lot going on. And lots of humor, with spontaneous interaction. Each audience, each town, is different. There’s always a fun exchange.”
They bring all this to their live stage show.
“I don’t know where you can get an evening like a Rockapella show anywhere else,” he said. “The history, the technique, the humor, the visual fun–it’s just a fun evening. If you like good songs, good music, and good times, you will not be brought down by a Rockapella show.”
As a neat wrapup, this concert is a little nod to the musical question Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?
“We don’t get to Texas enough,” Leonard said. “We look forward to it and are always glad to see it on the schedule.”
Rockapella performs at the Cailloux Theater, 910 Main, Kerrville TX, on Saturday, March 9, 2019, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased by visiting www.caillouxtheater.com or by calling (830) 896-9393. Info on Rockapella at http://www.rockapella.com/