In 1983, two Brown students sat on a dorm room floor, singing and idly wondering about starting an a cappella group. They gathered a group of friends who were interested in performing jazz a cappella (without musical accompaniment)—and so began the Higher Keys. “Born of a joy and passion for music,” the Higher Keys have always aimed to be a group that creates our own repertoire and community, and evolves over time.

The original Higher Keys of 1983.
The original Higher Keys of 1983.

Though the group originally performed only jazz music, we have since branched out to include songs from pop, R&B, soul, and other genres, all arranged by members of the group. Outside of performances for the Brown community and greater Providence area, the Keys share music through annual tours to cities around the United States and beyond. Past tours have traveled as far as Athens, Greece, as close as West Hartford, Connecticut, and everywhere in between, including Charleston, Chicago, and San Francisco. These tours have been wonderful bonding experiences and the source of many of our most beloved Keys memories!

The Keys of '07-08 perform a holiday concert.
The Keys of ’07-08 perform a holiday concert.

The first Higher Keys album, Taller Doors, was released in 1992. From then on, we have aimed to record a new album every four years to share our new arrangements and showcase every member’s talents! Our most recent album, Breaking Glass, was released in 2017, and another album was scheduled for release in 2020, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

In the early 2000s, the Keys regularly participated in the International Championships of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), both as competitors and as hosts. We advanced to the regional semifinal round in both 2010 and 2007, ranking highest among all participating co-ed groups in New England in 2007. However, the Keys have retired from the competitive sphere in order to prioritize what we value most: enjoying the music and one other’s company. 

Porch sing at Commencement Concert 2013.

The tight-knit friendships created between members of our group is evident every year during Commencement Weekend, when Keys alumni return to campus to attend class reunions, the Keys Commencement concert, or just to reunite with old friends! As we love to say: once a Key, always a Key.

As much as we love our group, the Keys history (and the history of college a cappella at large) is unfortunately not perfect. We continue to grapple with our relationship to the cultural appropriation of jazz and Black music, and with the ways our group atmosphere has been elitist in the past. We strive to better understand what anti-racism looks like in the context of college a cappella, which includes actively honoring the origins of the music we perform, prioritizing inclusivity within our group, and setting time aside for direct community engagement.

In summer 2020, we began to plan for a long-term, post-pandemic partnership with an arts-based community organization in Providence. And in 2021, we proudly announced our first a cappella Audition Workshop, geared towards making the audition process (and a cappella at Brown!) more accessible to students who have had less access to music training prior to coming to Brown. In the future, we’d love to host a benefit concert in partnership with Providence high schools, and we welcome all suggestions for ways we can continue to make using our resources and our members’ abilities a ~key~ part of our identity.

The Keys on March 14, 2020 in our final photoshoot before the COVID-19 pandemic.