After forming at Brown University in 1986, television appearances in the '90s, including a regular gig as the house band for PBS' Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, gave Rockapella the platform to become a leader in the evolution of a cappella. They earned this recognition by texturing their rich, five-part vocals with elements not only of doo wop, but rock, jazz, contemporary R&B, and pop, for a full-band sound. They issued their first album in 1992 and, through periodic lineup changes, continued with a consistent stream of releases through 2004. During that time, they also toured frequently, including opening for such legendary musicians as Chuck Berry, Billy Joel, and their idols, the Persuasions. The ensemble returned in 2010 with an album of original songs (Bang) before delving into popular holiday music, show tunes, Motown, pop, and hip-hop for subsequent collections.
Rockapella was founded during the mid-'80s by Brown University students Sean Altman (tenor) and Elliott Kerman (baritone), who met while members of the school's male a cappella ensemble the High Jinks. They soon formed a spin-off street corner group dubbed the Lunchtime Specials, gradually evolving into Rockapella -- although other members came and went, both Altman and Kerman stayed on throughout the lean years, eventually joined by tenor Scott Leonard and bass Barry Carl. In 1990. the group appeared on the PBS special Spike Lee and Company: Do It A Cappella, leading to an invitation to become the house band on the network's educational series Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, where they remained for five seasons. Although no American record deal was immediately forthcoming, Rockapella soon signed to the Japanese label For Life, issuing their debut LP, Rockapella, Vol. 1: To N.Y., in 1992. Two more albums appeared the same year, and in 1993, vocal percussionist Jeff Thacher joined the line-up in time to record 1994's Vocobeat. The Christmas release Out Cold was issued just months later, and in 1995 they issued their first American collection, Primer. In the wake of 1996's Lucky Seven, Altman left the lineup and was replaced by Kevin Wright; the retooled roster released Don't Tell Me You Do in early 1999. Rockapella 2 and the seasonal effort Christmas Album arrived in fall 2000, and the concert release Live came in early 2001. For 2002's Smilin', Rockapella welcomed guest vocals from singer George Baldi, who would appear on several future albums. That same year, the vocal group released the holiday effort Comfort and Joy. Live in Japan appeared in 2004 and marked the final record for co-founder Elliott Kerman, and the group's last release for six years. Wright left the group during the recording break and was replaced by tenor Steven Dorian.
Rockapella re-emerged in 2010 with Bang, a collection of all-original songs. It was followed by A Rockapella Holiday in 2011 and, with tenor Calvin Jones on board, Motown & More in 2013. With the lineup of Scott Leonard, Thacher, Steven Dorian, Calvin Jones, and new member Ryan Chappelle singing bass, the quintet released a single, "Rock Around the Clock/Tell Me Something Good" on Shakariki Records in 2015. Two years later, they issued the expansive Jams, Vol. 1. A 21-track mix of original songs, covers, studio, and live recordings, it covered multiple genres, including early rock, movie themes, contemporary pop, and hip-hop. ~ Jason Ankeny & Marcy Donelson
- New York, New York