A General Overview of the Jubilee Quartet Genre

The Jubilee quartets was a musical genre that started in the mid 1800’s as an outgrowth of the African American university singing movement.  It was very popular in the first half of the 20th century. They were groups of African-American musicians who put their own style and twist on negro-spiritual music. Each group consisted of about four different vocals (baritone, bass, lead and tenor). The early jubilee quartets featured close harmonies, formal arrangements and a “flatfooted” style of singing.

The quartet sound was the most popular form of music during the Golden Age of Gospel, a period in which there was significant growth of public consumption of Black gospel music, which was an explosion of black gospel culture, hence the term ‘gospel boom.’ The gospel boom period was from 1940 to 1960, right after the Great Depression, a period that also included World War II, and right before the Civil Rights Movement became a nationwide movement.

Quartet sound is primarily used in male groups and the quartet sound is defined by lead (tenor), second tenor, baritone, and bass, regardless of the number of members in the group. It is a style of singing developed by black male groups, usually without formal music training, characterized by complicated rhythms, lively tempo, and simple chords.

In time, however, the popularity of the jubilee style spread from the universities to black churches, where quartets, singing before audiences with a tradition of enthusiastic response, began to absorb much of the energy and freedom of Gospel music coming out of Holiness Churches.

Groups such as the Golden gate Quartet ,Fisk Jubilee, Dixie Hummingbirds, The Fairfield fours and The Soul Stirrers were popular groups that made up this genre.

Race labels featured one or more Jubilee quartets and during 1930s majority of sacred “race” records featured quartet. By 1930s community quartets were developed and popular.

 The Jubilee quartets had a major influence on early pop, particularly the “bird groups” such as the Orioles, the ravens and flamingoes who applied the quartets acapella techniques to pop songs in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s.

Individual quartet artists, such as Samuel Cooke , a former member of the Soul Stirrers borrowed heavily from this genre of music ,and helped to create soul music by introducing quartet-inspired harmonies. The quartet sounds also plays a huge role in modern gospel music today.

This was a very interesting  and enlightening genre to research on , as prior to this , I had no knowledge of groups such as the Golden gate quartet. If I heard a Jubilee Quartet group, I would probably dismiss the group as a gospel group, having no knowledge on the distinction between the two genres.