African American Quartets

African American Quartets emerged in the 1920’s, or otherwise known as the roaring 20’s, during a era of dramatic political and social change. More [white] Americans were moving into urban areas, the nations wealth more than doubled from 1920 to 1929, and people from all the over the nation were beginning to buy the same goods, listen to the same music and engage in the same media (advertising). Many Americans were more wealthy during this period and began buying goods such as ready to wear clothing and radios. Propaganda also arose during this time, because most people had access to things such as the radio and movie theaters.

African American quartets become popular during this time period and even continued past the great depression in the 1930’s. The quartets consisted of 4 to 6 men (though there were some female groups, most during this time were male) whom harmonized by each signing different chords and octaves, creating harmonious music using simply their voices, accompanied sometimes by instruments such as the guitar. The musical style of these quartets were similar to negro spirituals but with a upbeat rhythm and harmonious sound.  Groups differed lyrically in that some, such as the Golden Gate Quartet, wrote more sacred music (later leading to gospel) and others wrote more secular music (leading to jazz, r&b, pop and rap).

These groups not only influenced future genres of music, but also future generations of people. Groups such as the Golden Gate Quartet, Four Vagabonds and the Spirits of Rhythm were fundamental to the music and artist that came after them. The sad truth, however, is that these African American musicians created legendary sounds and changed history. That is not sad, what is is how there fame and talent was, and continued to be exploited, always leaving them on the shorter end of the stick (underpaid and usually exploited in some way). We see, starting during this time and continuing all through black history, is the sabotage that African Americans undergo and the exploration that takes place as soon as money and fame come into play. Those whom profit the most off of this [African] American music are the [white] individuals whom did not create it at all.

Written by Tamia McLaughlin


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