Finding them on television over the years has become a frequent and pleasant surprise for millions, whether it be on numerous national commercials and talk shows, or as regulars for five seasons on the award-winning PBS program Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?
Founding member Elliott Kerman recalls how the original quartet, a group of young Brown University alumni, was formed for the sheer love of performing; singing on New York City street corners with a hat out at their feet. "We were pretty embarrassed to ask for money," he remembers. They would earn enough from passersby to get dinner, and business cards dropped in their hat led to work at private parties and club appearances.
One thing led to another, and as the '90s began, they caught the eye of a producer putting together a television special about the growing genre of "contemporary" a cappella music. After filmmaker Spike Lee and entertainer Debbie Allen signed on to host this program, it became Spike & Co.: Do It A Cappella, and aired for several years on PBS, producing a soundtrack and video as well.
Rockapella's unique appearance on the show was the perfect national debut, and soon led the creators of a zany new daily geography gameshow to give rockapella a call. They were seeking original music for their show's theme song and elements, as well as some smart on-camera comic relief, and rockapella was a perfect fit. Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? was born, together with a companion soundtrack CD containing original music by the group. Soon live appearances and collaborations with major recording artists began to appear on their resume while millions of households across America were enthusiastically receiving daily doses of Rockapella.
With their USA plate full, lead singer Scott Leonard, a veteran of the recording scene in Tokyo prior to his joining Rockapella, suggested the quartet seek a record deal in Japan, allowing the group to try their hand at recording more original music and performing it before larger live audiences. Rockapella journeyed to Tokyo and made the deal, and as Carmen Sandiego and regular concert appearances around the USA continued, their Japanese activities began to provide a yearly outlet for their growing creativity. The now enormous pop a cappella music scene in Japan has Rockapella largely to blame for its existence.
In late 1992, realizing they were writing more and more sophisticated songs, heading toward a fuller "band" sound, Rockapella tried something that almost no singing group had ever considered before: they held auditions for a full-time mouth drummer, or "vocal percussionist" to begin performing, fully amplified, alongside them just like a real drummer. Jeff Thacher joined the group in this role shortly afterward, and soon his amazingly drum-like oral talents appeared throughout their recordings and on Carmen Sandiego, pioneering a future wave of young mouth drummers who today continue to study his unique talents and style.
As the '90s progressed, this five-man powerhouse, whose sound had become an infectious blend of soul, rock, r&b, and jazz, advanced across the USA, selling-out shows and appearing on radio and television everywhere. Five seasons of Carmen Sandiego had produced a huge crop of fans, young, old, and every age in between.
The group soon laid the groundwork for their future US recordings by creating two CDs for their fans, 1995's Primer, and '96's Lucky Seven. A substantial resume of national commercials grew as well, including a hugely successful 1998 Folgers coffee advertising campaign, featuring the group singing the entire commercial on-camera. The response to this ad was unprecedented, and Folgers soon followed up with a second spot, this time holiday-themed. Such attention was not to be wasted, and their next US album, Don't Tell Me You Do, was soon distributed nationally on J-Bird Records.
By mid-2000 Rockapella had released the follow-up album, 2, and had substantial airplay across the country. In winter of 2000, the first domestic holiday album, Christmas, appeared and became their first release to chart on Billboard, selling beyond all expectations. At the close of 2000, In Concert, was born, appearing on video and CD and airing on PBS television stations nationwide.
2001 & 2002 saw the release in Japan of the US albums, and in the spring, the group signed with a new US label, Amerigo Records, creating their newest album, Smilin', and the holiday album Comfort & Joy. Smilin' marks a big change for Rockapella, as legendary bass singer Barry Carl retires and the group welcomes newcomer and formidable talent George Baldi as his successor, bringing an exciting new edge to the trademark Rockapella sound and opening the group's next chapter of fantastic music-making.
As the undisputed kings of contemporary a cappella music, Rockapella continues to offer proof to everyone of their boundless ability to inspire and attract devoted fans, new and old…