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Secretary By Day, Songstress By Night

When you think of barbershop music, one image that probably does not come to mind is that of 80 or so women, dressed in matching, sparkly outfits. Jackie Bottash will change that. She's a secretary at a law firm in Washington, D.C. She's also a longtime member of the Potomac Harmony Chorus, an all-female group out of Arlington, Va., that performs four-part a cappella harmony, barbershop-style.


I first met Jackie years ago when I interviewed her father for a story about Washington's old Griffith Stadium. She asked me at the time if I'd ever be interested in doing a story about her barbershop singing group. I still remember my reaction: Barbershop? Women? I was intrigued, and tucked the idea away in the back of my mind.

This summer, while taking part in NPR's Knight Multimedia Training, I was looking for stories that were both visually interesting and sound-rich — stories that I could tell with audio slideshows. On a whim, I called Jackie and asked if I could attend a rehearsal of her singing group.

What was in store for me was hours of not just singing, but also carefully crafted choreography. I quickly realized how seriously the women of Potomac Harmony take their hobby. Their group is a chapter of the organization Sweet Adelines International, which, among other things, holds competitions, with choruses traveling from as far away as Europe and Asia.

The ladies of Potomac Harmony line up, in formation, backstage at the Arlington County Fair. (Andrea Hsu/NPR) hide caption

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The ladies of Potomac Harmony line up, in formation, backstage at the Arlington County Fair. (Andrea Hsu/NPR)

Over several different days following the group, I learned a lot about the women of Potomac Harmony. They range in age from 20-something to 80-something. Many have careers — Jackie, as I mentioned, is a secretary. Another member is a researcher with the National Institutes of Health. A few are lawyers. The chorus' director, Ozzi Mask, is a retired English teacher.

What brings them together is their love for the music, for the old-fashioned sound. Watch and listen. If you like what you hear, pick a part and join in.

Andrea Hsu is a producer at All Things Considered, and a graduate of NPR's Knight Multimedia Training.

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