Jubilee Quartets

Jubilee quartets also known as the African American quartet, is a unique singing form that started in the mid- 1800s and is derived from the historically black college and university singing movement. Jubilee quartets were extremely popular and the name derives from the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who were a group at singers at Fisk University that gathered to sing negro spirituals and raise money for their school. The word “quartet” normally means a group consisting of four members or a composition for four voices. With African American music, a quartet was an ensemble that consisted of a minimum of four voices and a maximum of six. Those voices would sing a four part harmony in either an a cappella style or with little instruments in the background. In African American culture quartet is not set on the number of members in the group but by the number of harmony parts.  

The Blind Boys of Alabama

The Blind Boys of Alabama are an African American gospel group. The group was founded in 1939 in Talladega, Alabama. They first sang together in their school chorus at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind in Talladega, Alabama. Their original influences were the Golden Gate Quartet, the Soul Stirrers and the Heavenly Gospel Singers. They were not allowed to sing “black” gospel music at their schools but they were able to listen to it on the radio. 

The Blind Boys of Alabama  found success after their appearance in the 1983 “The Gospel at Colonus”. After they started to become more popular, the group started doing tours internationally and has performed and recorded with such artists as Lou Reed, Prince, Ben Harper and many more. Their song “Way Down in the Hole” was even used as the theme song for the first season of the show “The Wire”. The Blind Boys have won five Grammy Awards in and was presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. They were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2003 and they were also inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame years later.  


Jubilee quartets have had a huge impact on African American history and music history together. They influenced many of the modern genres of musical styles we hear today. In music today, traditional quartets are not very common but I am certain that many groups were influenced by quartets. Groups such as Boyz II Men, Jagged Edge, Blackstreet and New Edition show that they were inspired by the quartets by dressing up and wearing suits for different performances and having 4-6 members in the group, but the groups normally did not have four different harmonizing parts. The Blind Boys of Alabama played a significant part in creating this sound and their impact is not only on African American people but the entire genre of gospel music.

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