Rockapella is a “pop funk” a cappella group founded in the 1986 by a group of students from Brown University. World-renowned for its vocals and astonishing performances, Rockapella has five members: high tenor Scott Leonard, vocal percussionist Jeff Thacher, bass George Baldi III, tenor Steven Dorian and tenor Calvin Jones. “[A cappella is] a form of music that connects with people immediately,” Thacher said. “[It] is a group of singers that can create the energy and sound of a band without the instruments––that’s more personal because everyone knows what a voice is.”
Thacher plays a vital role in the group and is one of the oldest members. He began performing with Rockapella in 1993 as a vocal percussionist. He developed his skills at an early age in the town of Potsdam, New York, where he used to beatbox for fun. After obtaining his degree in music, “an opportunity came up to be a professional, and that was Rockapella,” he said.
Thatcher said he was intimidated when he started as a full-time vocal percussionist. Just like any other muscles in the body, “mouth muscles have to build up strength,” Thacher said. Rockapella has attracted crowds of all ages from all over the world. They have even appeared on the PBS Kids show "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?"
Thatcher said the group considers itself to be family-friendly, its fans ranging from kids in diapers who wiggle to the beat to older crowds who could be wary of newer genres of music. Fortunately, that is not a problem for the band.
“A cappella has always had the quality of being not intimidating to older people, but still cool to younger people—when it’s done well,” Thacher said.
Rockapella draws inspiration from music of the 1960s, including The Persuasions, an a cappella group from Brooklyn, New York. The Persuasions covered various rock bands like the Grateful Dead, The Beatles and Elvis Presley, but their sound was more of a Motown style.
Thacher advises younger artists to pay attention to the musicians that came before them.
“Listen to people who have been successful in the past century because when you listen to the great singers of the past… you stylistically become a better performer, ” he said. “Go back and really listen to the great soul singers of America and make it part of you.”
Rockapella’s goal is to have an interactive performance with its audience and to allow for a comfortable experience. When asked how he feels onstage, Thacher said that he’s often excited to perform and that the stage is like his own living room. “We like to have fun onstage,” he said.
Rockapella will perform on Saturday Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. in the Wadsworth Auditorium. Tickets are $8 for students.