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A cappella groups in NYC that would challenge the 'Pitch Perfect' Bellas

Here are four New York City-based female a cappella groups you should listen to, including Stiletta, Mezzo NYC and more.  (Credit: youtube)

The “Pitch Perfect” Bellas are held together by a love of the vocal sound and the bond of friendship. Turns out, New York City’s leading a cappella performers are, too.

“We're all dear friends. We’re sort of like a sisterhood,” Judy Minkoff, the founder of Stiletta, said.

You could say the city’s most popular all-female a cappella groups are in competition with one another for stage gigs, but they’ve instead created a supportive community of women who share a common interest.

“That’s how I want it to be, first and foremost, to be a group that wants to hang out with each other,” Minkoff said, adding that her group has gotten together in the past with other performers, like Treble NYC and Mezzo, during casual music-based hangouts — we know what you’re thinking and, no, they’re not exactly like Bella riff-offs.

Though a side job (the city’s a cappella performers lead second lives as doctors, marketing reps and more), many groups have still been able to successfully coin the interest in their unique sound and turn a profit. Groups like Stiletta and Traces are often paid per public performance and can be spotted at venues across the city including Don't Tell Mama in Hell's Kitchen and The Bitter End in Greenwich Village.

We caught up with four of the city’s performance groups to find out what it’s like to be a part of this niche community and what makes them each unique.

Stiletta: Mixing a beatbox sound

When it comes to female a cappella groups,
Photo Credit: Stiletta

When it comes to female a cappella groups, Stiletta does it all. The group of six, founded five years ago by Minkoff, took home the national champion title at the 2016 Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival for their sound -- and moves. "There are so many pop female bands that are becoming really big who do dancing and singing," Minkoff said. "I had this vision to do a Pussycat Dolls-type group that performed a cappella music and had choreography." When a member has a solo, you'll find the rest of the ladies cranking out seamless dance moves behind her, adding an extra dynamic to the performance.

Considered a professional a cappella group, meaning its members make a profit per performances, Minkoff said Stiletta's beatbox sound also helps set the group apart from the rest. ""Stiletta is one of the few all-female groups in the world who uses an actual beatboxer as their vocal percussionist," she said. Meghan Costa, known as MC Beats, is the face behind their competitive edge.

Aiming to become a more commercially known name, Stiletta has auditioned for the latest "America's Got Talent" season. The group, comprised of Minkoff, Costa, Jaymee Frankel, Haley Clair, Olivia Harding and Stevi Incremona, is also slated to headline SingStrong, a charity-based a cappella music festival taking place at Adelphi University Feb. 9 through Feb. 11.

How they'd fare in a Bellas freestyle battle: "You know, in a lot of ways, we're very similar to the Bellas. I think it would be head-to-head, but I'm pretty sure we'd come out first. The reason is because of our sisterhood. Even though the Bellas love each other, there's a lot of strife in that movie. Our group doesn't have a lot of ego. We fully support each other and really want the group to thrive as a whole. I can't think of the last time we had any sort of drama," she said.

Treble NYC: Leaning on longevity

The longest-running female a cappella group in the
Photo Credit: Treble NYC

The longest-running female a cappella group in the city, Treble is singing its way through its 22nd year with 11 "very committed members." The majority of the group's leading ladies have been a member for the past decade or more, helping Treble solidify its sound. With up to three 45-minute "friends and family" shows (privately arranged gigs) scheduled per year, Treble has performed at Joe's Pub, Don't Tell Mama, The Bitter End and more local spots. Recently, the group has found a niche performing hired events for women's organizations, including the women's jail at Rikers Island in March 2016. They were also featured in the 2016 film "How to be Single."

Treble credits its longevity with a unique sound and transparent organization strategy within the group. Yearly, its members head out of the city for a two-day retreat to practice and check in about song preference. "I feel like a lot of people, when they hear about women's a cappella groups, they're thinking of those higher tones, which some people might think are not as pleasing to hear, but we have a large amount of women who can sing incredibly low," Meredith Strang, the group's musical director, said.

How they'd fare in a Bellas freestyle battle: "That movie, we get more requests from people saying can your group come do a battle and I have to break it down and explain why an a cappella group can't do that. The thing is, we do improv every once in a while, because it's a good musical skill to have, so we do it privately but it's certainly not as easy as the movie puts it out to be," Keeli Davis, Treble's booking manager, said.

Traces: A gospel flair

More than a decade in the making, a
Photo Credit: Traces

More than a decade in the making, a group of six women (Tamika Gumbs, Keesha Gumbs, Selame Kedist, Gbiankador Kotee, Cindy Valerus and Leighton Newell) make up Traces, a city-based group that prides itself on its soul, gospel and jazz sound. Known best for the hit "Nobody Love" music video, Kedist said the group's covers come from "arrangements tailored specifically to the nuances we grew up listening to in the church choir." They've been spotted onstage at the Best Buy Theatre during NBC's "Sing-Off Tour" and Los Angeles' Dolby Theatre for the "Sing-Off Holiday Special" in 2014.

How they'd fare in a Bellas freestyle battle: "Bellas are great but with our hard-hitting vocals, booming bass and solid percussion . . . we can give them a run for their money. Just imagine it: A new generation of Bellas on the Barden University Campus. Things take a shady turn when they discover that their perfectly-choreographed routines and stunning arrangements were in fact stolen from Melodically Melanated*, an all black female group from Barden State, by former Bella music director (and Trebelmaker Alum Bumper Allen's sister), Jessica Allen. Now this year, they plan to settle the score on the stage at the Lincoln Center! *Elizabeth Banks if you're reading this and you need an all-black female group . . . we are totally free," Kedist said.

Mezzo NYC: Evolving with diversity

Mezzo was born when a few a cappella-loving
Photo Credit: Mezzo NYC

Mezzo was born when a few a cappella-loving ladies gathered in 2014 to sing together for the fun of it. Four years later, Mezzo is now a semiprofessional group, meaning they perform both paid and unpaid events, and a notable name in the city's a cappella scene. Erin Mazuera, Mezzo's business manager, said that the group's diversity has helped its sound evolve from a private hobby into a profession.

"We really take pride in the fact that many of the girls in the group have come in from different countries throughout their lives and of course their experience is valuable to how we collect our music and how we sing," Mazuera said. The group has NYC-based members originally from South Korea, Singapore, Canada and various states across the country, including Virginia.

Mazuera, Reynetta Sampson, Jen Kipley, Amanda Lim, Angie Kim and Liz Chapman, who make up Mezzo, have performed at The Bell House, Beluga Bar, The Delancey, Sessions 73, among other local venues, and have recently been booked for a few private corporate gigs. They're known best for their breakout music video, "Don't Let Me Down," but music director Lim said they can be heard performing a variety of popular genres. "It's not always one thing. It's songs I'm personally excited about arranging and the other part is a lot of the members bring ideas to the group. Alternatively, we look at what's on the radio and what we identify with as a group," Lim said.

Mezzo is slated to perform at the ticketed SingStrong A Cappella Festival on Feb. 9. You can also catch the group for free at Dekalb Market.

How they'd fare in a Bellas freestyle battle: "Oh my gosh. They would win it hands down in choreography since we don't do that. They do body rolls and splits, we'd completely lose in that department . . . I think one of the things that put us above the Bellas is our arrangements. We'd do pretty good at coming up with an on-the-fly arrangement," the group said.


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