In 2016, CASA is celebrating its 25th birthday. As we do so, there could be no more fitting recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award than our founder, the man whose work over the last quarter century has transformed contemporary a cappella music from a punch line to a platinum-selling, box-office-busting phenomenon: Deke Sharon.
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel
In 1991, Deke Sharon started the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America in his dorm room at Tufts University. But he had already begun to make his mark on what we know as contemporary a cappella. In 1989, Deke’s arrangement of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” helped his collegiate group, the Tufts Beelzebubs, make history, bringing collegiate a cappella out of the era of barbershop, doo-wop, and Great American Songbook standards and into the modern day. Their album Foster Street, for which Deke served as music director, has been credited with “giving birth to the contemporary a cappella sound”.
While still at Tufts, Deke told a professor he wanted a career in a cappella, to which the professor replied: “You might as well tell me you want to make a career in Tiddlywinks”. Fortunately, Deke’s passion for Tiddlywinks was lukewarm at best. And today, twenty-five years later, he has not only made a career in a cappella, he has made it possible for countless others to make careers in a cappella as well. Every industry professional in our community today owes the opportunities they have in part to Deke Sharon.
Deke and the 2010 CASA Board of Directors
For better than two decades, Deke traveled the world as the founder, countertenor, and music director for the groundbreaking vocal band The House Jacks. But he didn’t just make his mark on contemporary a cappella in an artistic sense, and he didn’t just start a non-profit and a newsletter that connected people all across the globe. He was instrumental in founding the competition known today as the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA). He started the A Cappella Summit, the precursor to all other a cappella festivals. He was involved in starting the Best of College A Cappella (BOCA) compilation, the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards (CARAs), the Contemporary A Cappella League (CAL), Camp A Cappella, and a litany of other programs that help an ever-growing population of singers and vocal music fans to connect with both the music they love and the community of those who share that love.
Deke is likely best known these days for his work as music director, consultant, and producer for such high-profile projects as NBC’s The Sing-Off and the blockbuster Pitch Perfect movie series. Between his film and TV work, his co-authorship of successful books like A Cappella Arranging with Dylan Bell and A Cappella with Ben Spalding and Brody McDonald, and his tireless educational efforts as a coach and clinician around the globe, Deke continues to devote his time and apparently limitless energy to spreading the message of “harmony through harmony”.
It is perhaps unorthodox to give a lifetime achievement award to someone whose achievements are, all evidence suggests, still on an upward trajectory and show no sign of slowing. But as CASA looks back on twenty-five years of music and community, it’s indisputable that Deke has already achieved, created, and contributed far more in the world of contemporary a cappella than most people could accomplish in several lifetimes, let alone one. So it was never a matter of if, but only when, we’d be honoring him at the CARAs with a Lifetime Achievement Award. With this year’s awards being presented at the Somerville Theatre, just down the hill from the halls where Deke coached the Bubs through “In Your Eyes” and the dorm room where he started CASA, our silver anniversary seems like the fitting time to end the suspense. We are delighted to honor “the father of contemporary a cappella” with this year’s award, and we hope you’ll join us at BOSS (April 8-10) to celebrate the occasion.