In August 1985, a group of four Twin Cities barbershop singers met to discuss the formation of a superior quality chorus that would consist of highly motivated men who would use barbershop singing, with its hallmark emphasis on precise, ringing harmony, as the foundation for a diverse and broadly appealing repertoire.
The focus was on shedding the stereotype of barbershop singing, and performing with excellence and excitement to create a powerful experience and connection between singer and audience.
The chorus won its first Land O' Lakes District BHS competition that year with 42 singers and has since become one of the elite barbershop choruses in the world. GNU has competed in the Barbershop Harmony Society's International Competition 21 times and placed in the top 10 each time, including eight finishes as a top 5 medalist.
In 2009, the chorus placed third at the contest in Anaheim, Calif. The third place finish was the highest for the chorus since a similar third place finish in Louisville, Ky, in 1991. In 2011 (Kansas City, Mo.) and 2012 (Portland, Ore.) the GNU finished with silver medals, achieving records in scoring both times. In the 2013 Las Vegas competition, the chorus finished with another third place bronze medal, putting up the highest third place score ever recorded (94.5).
Great Northern Union utilizes the Barbershop Harmony Society's competition and judging system as a method of benchmarking our artistic quality. Barbershop music is, by no means, the only genre of music GNU performs. GNU sings a diverse repertoire that includes pop, country, rock, classical choral and Broadway.
Roger Williams was the founding Musical Director of the Great Northern Union. He led the chorus musically from 1985 to 1994 and again from 1997 to 2002.
Dean Haagenson served as Musical Director from 1994 to 1997.
Peter Benson led the chorus as Musical Director from 2002 through 2014.
Douglas Carnes took the helm of GNU in mid 2015. Scott Kvigne continues to serve as Associate Director of the chorus.