A quartet according to western music is a musical composition or ensemble of four voices or instruments. But African American quartets had a minimum of four voices with a maximum of six, singing four-part harmony arrangements. The diffference between the European Quartet and the African American Quartet is the African American quartet is determined by the number of harmonies being sang and not the number of people. The African American quartet originated in the mid-1800’s. Quartets were mostly made up of men. These male groups created a brand new style of singing that evolved into a sub category of gospal music, which has influenced many gospel groups even today.
There are many different types of the quartet, such as: The University Jubilee Quartet and the Barbershop Community Quartet. The university movement was birth from the American Civil War, at schools located primarily in the South. Fisk univeristy was on the verge of bankruptcy. To obtain money, George L. White, the univeristies treasurer and choir director began touring with nine students (majority were former slaves). This group of nine went on to become the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Barbershop Community Quartets are exactly what they sound like; people from the community assembling in barbershops and singing. The Mills Brothers, the New Orleans Humming Four, the Southern Stars, and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet all started in their local barbershops. Barbershop quartets sang spirituals, folk songs, and the most popular songs during that time.
Quartets began gaining media attention in 1891 and by the 1930’s quartets were one of the top genres being publicized. Quartets were on radio broadcasts, commercial recordings, and tours. This gained media attention exposed quartet singers to audiences way beyond their local univeristies and barbershops.
Quartets mostly remind myself of not only gospel groups today but also accapella groups like those seen in movies such as Pitch Perfect. My favorite aspect of quartets is the lack of instruments. I find it very interesting that they’re depending on just their vocals to create such beautiful music.
Example of a quartet: The Golden Gate Quartet (started as a Barbershop Quartet)