The African American quartet began in the mid-1800s. It came from the African American university singing movement. Jubilee quartets consisted of men that sang a sub-genre of gospel music. Specifically, 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 singing four-part harmony arrangements in either an acapella style or with limited instrumentation such as guitar, bass, and dreams. Furthermore, the definition of an African American quartet is determined by the number of harmony parts.
There were various types of jubilee quartets during the jubilee period which occurred from 1880 to 1929. These included the university, minstrel, and community-based jubilee quartet. The university singing movement mainly occurred in schools located in the South such as Clark Atlanta University, Hampton University, and Fisk University. Most university quartets performed in the acapella style of the folk idiom and maintain harmonic simplicity by utilizing few chord changes. The nature of these quartets are a reflection of values grounded in the African American identity. Minstrel Jubilee Quartets were able to introduce spirituality in minstrel shows. Community based quartets combined practices from both types of jubilee quartets.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers are an example of a jubilee quartet. They originated at Fisk University. They mostly sang negro spirituals at the start of the group. The Golden Gate Quartet is another popular jubilee quartet group. They were the most success jubilee quartet group. Their performances were a mixture of spirituals with the rhythmic beat of blues, jazz, and gospel. I have included a video of the Golden Gate Quartet below.
In conclusion, the the styles of the African American quartet are reflective of the socio-cultural, economic, educational, and religious influences experienced by African American people in the late 19th century and early 20th century.