Jubilee Quartet's Evolution
by Kyleigh Brown
Jubilee is “a genre from the 19th century with sacred or secular narrative texts, sung with a moderate or fast tempo”. It was commonly sung by schools created to educate emancipated slaves (HBCUs) and traveling groups as a way of fundraising. Jubilees evolved from arranged/concert spirituals and used some Western conventions, such as quartets.
Quartets: Western, Jubilee, Gospel
In Western music, a quartet is a musical ensemble of four voices and/or instruments, but is usually sung a capella.
The jubilee quartets, which emerged around the 1880s and were popular until the 1920s, drew inspiration from the arranged/concert spirituals that came before them by using close four part harmony, call and response, and an emphasis on percussion and rhythm. The emergence of this genre came to be due to the growing popularity of traveling groups such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who sang as a way of fundraising for their school.
Gospel quartets formation was similar to the jubilee quartets in formation, with the ensemble still consisting of 4-6 voices. However, they differed in that gospel quartets typically featured a lead singer who would carry the melody and instrumental accompaniment such as drums, guitar, and bass. Barbershop quartets evolved from gospel quartets as a subgenre, however, this style of music was stolen and popularized by white quartet singers.
As with many genres in African American music, white people took this as an opportunity to humiliate black people for their culture and profit off of this indignity through minstrel shows which would mimic the different styles of quartets. Eventually, this practice faded as black people entered the minstrel scene to better represent themselves.
Jubilee and gospel quartets were later marketed to the African American community through the race series, which were recordings performed and directed by African American musicians during the 1920s-40s.These recordings led to the acknowledgement of this genre by other communities outside of the black community in America.
Burnim, Mellonee V., and Portia K. Maultsby. African American Music an Introduction. New York u.a.: Routledge, 2015.