Golden Gate Quartet – The Kings of Jubilee

General Overview of Jubilees

There are several types of Jubilees:

  • University jubilee quartets
  • Minstrel jubilee quartets
  • Community-based jubilee quartets
  • Shape note/sacred harp quartets
  • Barbershop community quartets

There are also several periods of Jubilee music:

  • Jubilee period 1880 – 1929
  • Transitional period 1930 – 1945 the music got more rhythmic during this time period.


  • Once radio comes out, jubilee groups began singing radio ads and being used for propaganda during WWII.
  • Jubilee singers also participated in minstrel shows.


  • Jubilee differs from spirituals in that they were typically performed in a quartet, rather than through a choir or slaves, as with spirituals.
  • More of a syncopated style.
  • different voice parts added to arrangements of music.
  • Even more emphasis on call and response.
  • Introduction of vocal percussion in the music.
  • Emphasis on solos.
  • Use of steady beat throughout songs.
  • Use of phonetic syllables, rather than words. Etc. “tweet”
  • Using voice to mimic an instrument like a trumpet.

Social Implications

  • Out of this vocal style, there was established a beat that would become iconic, and used widely in pop music today.
  • This style had much influence on Elvis, to the extent of which he stole the style and passed it off as his own invention, within the genre of rock and roll. 
  • The above video shows that Elvis stole his style of singing directly from the Golden Gate Quartet.
    This style not only influenced black music, but it also influenced the style of music of all genres, even those that appear to be white dominated today.

The Golden Gate Quartet

  • Although the Golden Gate Quartet is still active under the same name, the current group is much different than the original formation of the group both in membership and in style of music.
  • The original group was founded in 1934 and consisted of four members: Willie Johnson, William Landford, Henry Owens, and Orlandus Wilson. The group performed jubilee music and pioneered many characteristics of popular music today like use of phonetic syllables, emphasis on solos, use of vocal percussion, and arrangements utilizing different vocal parts.
  • The original group also focused on the use of acapella music.
  • The group found success through performing in local churches in Virginia, and through radio-play on local stations. In addition to this, they found success in other states on the east coast like North and South Carolina.
  • Many of the songs that the Golden Gate Quartet performed heavily influenced many popular music styles today like Rock and Roll, as shown above, but also rap and hip-hop.

Many rap producers today try to imitate this same bass line and rhythm, electronically.

  • During the transitional period of jubilee music and the Great Depression, the Golden Gate Quartet was at its height.
  • Eventually, the tradition of the jubilee quartet fades out in favor of gospel music and genres that cater more to the glamour of hollywood.

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