Dissection of the Jubilee Quartet: The African American Technique

In African American music, a quartet is defined as a vocal ensemble that consisted of a minimum of four voices and a maximum of six voices. They sing four-part harmony ranges in either and a cappella style or limited instrumentation.

Background

In Western art music, the term “quartet” is usually considered to be either a musical group consisting of four members or a musical composition of four voices or instruments. In contrast, the definition of an African American quartet is not limited to the size of the group, but rather the number of designated harmony parts.

The Jubilee Quartet: Arrangements

The Jubilee Quartet is the ensemble of four to six voices that perform formal arrangements of spirituals and Jubilee songs in for part harmony with emphasis on a percussive and rhythmic style of singing. 


Quartets consisted of four singers during the jubilee period — first and second tenor, baritone, and bass. Some quartets had members who sang falsetto leads and incorporated different notes. The four-part harmonies were very close, with contrary harmonic and rhythmic movement being a characteristic of the base vocal line. While harmonic and melodic simplicity remain intact, the prevailing rules on voicing, court structure, and chord progression were not always effective.

Spiritual arrangements sung by jubilee quartets developed from a combination of three musical sources: harmonized western-influenced ensemble of jubilee choirs, the African-American singing style, and the call-and-response forms for African American folk spiritual and work songs. Usually the full group sings the chorus in harmony, and then a  soloist sings the verse above repeated, harmonized, rhythmic phases sung by the group.


Quartet arrangements also continue elements from traditional folk spiritual. The arrangements maintain harmonic simplicity by utilizing a few chord changes. In addition, a single melody is repeated with a different set of lyrics for each stanza. This style is utilized through call-and-response and values grounded in the quality of an African American. 

The styles of the African-American quartet are cumulative and dynamic, reflecting the historical influences by African-American people in the community to meet the interest, needs, and aesthetics of the African American community.

Works Cited

     Burnim, Mellonee V, and Portia K. Maultsby. African American Music: An Introduction. , 2015. Print.

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