16 Of The Greatest And Most Famous A Cappella Groups Of All Time

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Acapella music is nothing new. In fact, it’s been around for centuries. But in the last few decades, a cappella music has seen a resurgence in popularity with films like Pitch Perfect bringing the spotlight back onto it.

Now, there are dozens of amazing a capella groups out there. Each has their own unique sound and style that fans love to hear.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at 16 of the greatest and most famous a cappella groups of all time. Let’s dive in.

1. Pentatonix

One of the most well-known vocal groups of all time, Pentatonix is an American acapella group hailing from Arlington, Texas, consisting of five members (which is where they get their name from: pent = five).

They are distinguished by their pop-style arrangements with riffing, basslines, percussion, beatboxing, and vocal harmonies. The group formed in 2011, and they went on to win the 3rd season of NBC’s The Sing-Off, landing a recording contract with Sony and $200,000 in prize money.

The group then takes these skills to make cover versions of modern pop songs and Christmas songs. They also produce original material of their own.

Pentatonix has 13 albums and 22 singles, with “Mary, Did You Know?” being one of their most notable Christmas jingles, as well as their cover for Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Sony would eventually drop the group, and so they formed a YouTube channel, distributing their music through Madison Gates, a label owned by Sony Pictures.

2. Home Free

Consisting of Austin Brown, Tim Foust, Adam Chance, Rob Lundquist, and Adam Rupp, our next acapella group is Home Free. They are a vocal group that formed in 2001.

Initially, they were more an all-purpose acapella group, not really tagged as specifically country. However, after being rejected by The Sing-Off three times, they decided on country for their fourth audition, which caught the attention of the directors and even winning the season with the song “I Want Crazy.”

Since then, Home Free has released 15 albums. The update of their 2014 album Full of Cheer, called Full of (Even More) Cheer, landed #2 on Billboard‘s Top Country Albums chart.

3. The Swingle Singers

Formed by Ward Swingle in 1974, the Swingle Singers are a vocal group from England. They primarily performed a cappella, though not exclusively, and initially had eight members.

Over the years, the group has explored many different styles. These styles included world folkloric music, show tunes, avant-garde, rock, classical, and jazz.

This Swingle Singers group in particular replaced their predecessor of the same name, which was formed in 1962 in Paris, France. There are still remnants of the earlier group since the newer group possesses the entire skill and repertoire of the first.

4. The Real Group

From Sweden, the Real Group formed in 1984. The group has arranged and composed most of their songs focusing on acapella vocal jazz and pop. They consist of five members: Anton Forsberg, Emma Nilsdotter, Anders Edenroth, Jānis Strazdiņš, and Lisa Östergren.

The group sings not only in their native language, Swedish, but in English as well. Interestingly, the group cites American vocalist Bobby McFerrin as their source of inspiration.

The Real Group was formed while its members were students at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, and over the years, they have performed in over 2000 concerts globally.

In 2000, during the opening ceremony at the FIFA World Cup in Seoul, South Korea, the Real Group performed in front of 60,000 people.

5. The Manhattan Transfer

Jazz vocal group the Manhattan Transfer was formed in 1969. They have explored musical genres such as a cappella, swing, Brazilian jazz, standards, pop music, vocalese, and rhythm and blues.

Over the years, the group has amassed multiple Grammy awards, including Best Jazz Fusion Performance for their cover of “Birdland” in 1980. Eight years later, the group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

The Manhattan Transfer has had two editions of the group, with the first group consisting of Tim Hauser, Pat Rosalia, Erin Dickins, Gene Pistilli, and Marty Nelson.

The second edition of the group started in 1972, and it featured Tim Hauser, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul, and Janis Siegel. Hauser was the only member to be a part of both groups.

6. Take 6

Created in 1980, Take 6 is an American acapella group. The sextet started on the campus of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama.

The group members are David Thomas, Alvin Chea, Joey Kibble, Khristian Dentley, Mark Kibble, and Claude V. McKnight III, and they are known for incorporating spiritual and inspirational lyrics with elements of jazz.

Take 6 is considered the most successful acapella group of all time, receiving multiple Grammys, a Soul Train Award, Dove Awards, and even a notable nomination for the NAACP Image Award. Their eponymous album debuted in 1988, and it won Grammy Awards in both jazz and gospel categories.

7. The Alley Cats

Doo-wop group the Alley Cats had their start in 1987 when the group was fortuitously formed on a whim when a concert choir program was having a variety night at Fullerton College.

Andre Peek, Armando Fonseca, Todd Dixon, and Royce Reynolds decided to take someone’s advice and got together, and the quartet gained national notoriety.

The Alley Cats would go on to perform at big venues such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Arsenio Hall Show.

The Alley Cats have won two Contemporary A Cappella Society awards. They won one for best song, “What’s Your Name,” and the other for the best album, The Doo-Wop Drive-In Live.

8. The Persuasions

Brooklyn-based quintet the Persuasions are an acapella group formed in the mid-1960s. They came from humble beginnings and began singing acapella in subway corridors and under streetlights.

The original members were Jerry Lawson as tenor and lead singer, Jimmy Hayes as bass, Jayotis Washington as first tenor, Joseph Jesse Russell as second tenor, and Herbert Rhoad as baritone.

The Persuasions had a style that combined soul, early rock, gospel, and jazz in five-part harmonies. After Frank Zappa discovered the Persuasions, the group would go on to record 23 albums to date.

9. Rockapella

An amalgam of the words rock and acapella, Rockapella formed in New York City in 1986. This group not only sings original vocal music, but they also sing covers of rock and pop songs.

Over time, Rockapella’s sound has evolved from high-energy pop and world music to primarily an R&B style and sound. Intriguingly, they found its greatest success in Japan.

Notably, the band also played the role of the vocal house band on the PBS children’s geography show entitled Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?

10. Street Corner Symphony

Hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, Street Corner Symphony were notably on the second season of NBC’s reality show The Sing-Off, coming in second place during the competition.

SCS began in 2010 for the express purpose of competing on the show. Jeremy Lister, Jonathan Lister, Kaleb Jones, Kurt Zimmerman, and Armand Hutton were the members at that time. Since then, there have been many replacements over the years.

SCS has released three albums and nearly 30 singles under their record label and have also been featured in many commercials for The Sing-Off.

11. Naturally 7

When two brothers, Warren and Roger Thomas, sought out five other singers they had become familiar with, they eventually formed Naturally 7. This group sings R&B and soul music, and specialize in what’s called vocal play.

Together, they create sounds that resemble instruments such as the guitar, trumpet, arranger, trombone, harmonica, bass guitar, and other distortion effects.

You can visit their YouTube channel for covers of popular songs such as “Fix You” by Coldplay. Since their inception, Naturally 7 have won numerous singing competitions in NYC and have 13 albums.

12. Straight No Chaser

Started at Indiana University, Straight No Chaser was a student-led acapella group that performed alternative indie and seasonal music. They achieved widespread recognition when a recorded parody of “12 Days of Christmas” that they made in 1998 went viral in 2007.

The group’s founding members went on to graduate, and new students eventually replaced them. However, after this video was viewed more than 23 million times, the original members reunited.

Straight No Chaser received a record deal from Atlantic Records in 2008 to released five albums.  Their album Holiday Spirits won the CARA award as the Best Holiday Album the following year.

13. The Filharmonic

Los Angeles acapella group the Filharmonic specializes in pop and seasonal music. They are all Filipino-American, which they take great pride in when it comes to representing diversity in the industry.

The Filharmonic was featured on season four of the hit show The Sing-Off on NBC. After appearing on The Late Show, the group members also showcased their talent in the movie Pitch Perfect 2.

They give off a certain ’90s nostalgia with a splash of hip-hop that they use to create memorable performances. In 2016, they toured over 150 colleges and universities to perform some of their hits.

14. VoicePlay

One of the younger groups in our list, VoicePlay was formed in 2000 in Orlando, Florida. They have performed in various places worldwide and throughout the United States.

The group bounced between different styles, eras, and genres of music, displaying how vast the musical landscape is while coupling their singing with theatrics.

Their music is excellent for all ages, and they are constantly uploading new music to their YouTube channel. One of their most popular songs is “Daddy Sang Bass” off their album of the same name in 2018.

This group was also on season four of The Sing-Off. They won Pop Group of the Year at the acapella Music Awards in 2019, and they’ve done eight national tours to date.

15. SoCal VoCals

From the University of Southern California, the SoCal VoCals is a group of 13 to 19 men and women that perform songs from multiple genres such as jazz, rock, and pop.

They started their group in 1996, and they are the only ones that has won five awards in the ICCA competition. Hundreds of college acapella groups enter each year, and they are at the top.

The SoCal VoCals have released eight albums. One of their best songs is “Hammer,” a 2018 cover from their album V.

They have performed at venues such as the Rose Bowl, Carnegie Hall, the Staples Center (now known as Crypto.com arena), the LA House of Blues, and more.

16. The Brown Derbies

Daryl Shrock founded the Brown Derbies in 1982 at Brown University. They sing Pop, Rock, and R&B music and have released 14 albums.

The Brown Derbies have performed internationally and around the country, incorporating humor into their choreography routines during live performances. They take pride in being one of the best college acapella groups.

They performed for President Bill Clinton in 1997 and were on CBS’s The Early Show in 2007 and the Gospel Music Channel in 2011. The following year, the Brown Derbies got the opportunity to perform live at the acapella Music Festival in London.

Summing Up Our List Of Great Acapella Groups

Pentatonix by Ben P L (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Acapella is a unique style of singing that allows us to experience the extensive capabilities of the human voice. It does not only sound words but also the sound of musical instruments.

These acapella groups are extremely talented and have been around for years to provide enjoyable music for people of all ages. Check out their YouTube channels if you haven’t heard of some of these groups—they are quite good!

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.