HOW’D WE GET STARTED?: Jubilee quartets were popular African-American religious musical groups in the first half of the 20th century. The early jubilee quartets featured close harmonies, and a formal and calculated arranged style of singing that emphasized restrained musical expression and technique derived from Western musical traditions. Early quartets reinforced their clean cut and respectable image by adopting uniforms that a university glee club might wear and discouraging improvisation.

In time, the notoriety of the jubilee style spread from the colleges to black places of worship. As these quartets bellowed before audiences of people with a custom of eager reaction, it started to retain a great part of the vitality and energy of Gospel music.


Almost exclusively a four-part harmony without accompaniment by any instruments including pianos, or guitar. Also donned acapella.  More on that point, a “quartet” is not defined by the number of members, but more so my the number of designated harmony points. We will see this further displayed later when we get to our quartet.

As a general rule, quartets use a “TTBB “(tenor—tenor—baritone—bass) arrangement, with the second tenor on lead vocal.


The tenor generally harmonizes above the lead, making the part the highest in the quartet. So as not to overpower the lead singer, who carries the tune, the part is often sung in falsetto, which is of a softer quality singing.

Lead/ Second Tenor

Lead (often a lower tenor) usually sings the main melody.


Baritone often completes the chord with a medium voice, usually slightly below the lead.


Bass always sings and harmonizes the lowest notes, often setting the root of the chord for root position chords, or singing the lowest note of the chord for inverted chords. The bass carries a deep, strong tune.

FUTURE GENRE INFLUENCE: Along with The Fisk Jubilee Singers, the Golden Gate Quartet, and the original Five Blind Boys of Alabama a.k.a Happyland Jubilee Singers before their music style transitioned from Jubilee to what some categorize as improvisational gospel. Like in the journey of the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Jubilee quartets directly influenced Gospel quartet and traditional gospel songs in the 1980s. The original Jubilee Singers® introduced ‘slave songs’ to the world in 1871 and were instrumental in preserving this unique American musical tradition known today as Negro spirituals.


In the early 20th century, many African American families in the Northwest region were rooted in the community quartet tradition that would act as a predecessor to early gospel traditions. This acapella quartet tradition was based on the singing of the spearheading Fisk Jubilee singers. Close contenders included the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, the 5 Blind Boys of Alabama, and our featured quartet the 5 Royales/The Tanner Brothers.

During this period, the Tanner brothers of Winston-Salem — John, David, Purnell, Eugene Jr., and Fred — were among the many young men soaking up the new sounds of gospel quartets and quintets. Sons of E. E. Tanner and his wife Marie, natives of South Carolina who moved to Winston in the ’20s to work at R.J. Reynolds, the Tanner brothers grew up in a very religious and musical family, performing gospel songs with their parents in church and on the road.

Amid this period, the Tanner siblings of Winston-Salem – John, David, Purnell, Eugene Jr., and Fred – were among the numerous young fellows drenching up the new hints of gospel groups of four and quintets. Children of E. E. Leather expert and his better half Marie, locals of South Carolina who moved to Winston during the ’20s to work at R.J. Reynolds, the Tanner siblings experienced childhood in a religious and melodic family, performing gospel tunes with their folks in chapel and out and about.

The oldest Tanner child, John, was an individual from the Royal Sons, a neighborhood quintet comprising of voice and guitar characterizing these new gospel sounds in Winston-Salem. Indeed, it was 5 individuals in this group of four. The gathering sang in nearby African American houses of worship, just as at get-togethers for white Winston-Salem inhabitants. A companion recommended they send a portion of their chronicles to New York’s Apollo Records. Their test cut, the gospel standard “It’s Gonna Rain,” picked up them a tryout lastly a record contract. The “5” Royales were drafted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009. They were nominated unsuccessfully for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and 2004; they were accepted in 2015 in the class Early Influence.

Conclusion: The creation of Jubilee quartets opened up a new world of group singing. No longer did the spotlight has to rest on one voice, but now we could indulge in the smooth crooning of 4 melodic souls. As stated, without this cohort style of music we are left to question the possibility of gospel ever being created let alone maintained at the level it is today.

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