Jubilee Quartets: Slaves to Entertainers

The Jubilee genre captured societies attention beginning in the late 1880s, carrying through important transitional eras throughout U.S. history. Beginning with Jubilee quartets flourishing through the African Americans institutions of higher education, to being used to promote political propaganda. Jubilee quartets acquired attention quickly, and eventually went on to influence other genres.

Jubilee is a genre with sacred or secular narrative texts, and is sung in a moderate or fast tempo. African American Jubilee quartets typically consists of 4-6 voices singing  4-part harmony arrangements in either an a cappella style or with limited instruments. Jubilee quartets began in the institutions built to educate the emancipated slaves. In 1871, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were founded. Their primary goal was to earn money to keep Fisk University open.

The group of nine members toured, singing for many people and earning money for their school. The Fisk Jubilee Singers would go on to influence many other musical groups from other historically Black colleges and university.

The former slaves of the Fisk Jubilee Singers used their initial campaign to also influence another aspect of the Jubilee genre, Minstrel shows. Minstrel shows created for and by whites in the 1840s included dances, songs, verbal dialogues and performance routines that reflected the White racial imagination of that era. As always, African Americans being restricted from performing, began forming their own minstrel troops. White troops and Black troops depicted completely different perceptions of the life of an African American. So, the all black cast that were created focused their musical content on a religious background.

As time went on, the industrial Revolution hit the United States. Jubilee quartets had already began to catch the eye of Whites, due to the first steps of those at Fisk, and the impact Minstrel shows had on society. Radio’s were popular, but at this point in history, televisions and microphones were invented. The Roaring 20s took over the united States, and people were thriving. This movement allowed for media to spread Jubilee style music everywhere. It also gave African American Jubilee quartets the opportunity to gain popularity. Which they did.


Jubilee quartets took over media and was used to change the narrative of African Americans. While battling societies racial tension, Jubilee quartets maintained to flourish with their unique and creative sound, that immediately captures anyones attention. I  sincerely appreciate the impact and determination my ancestors emitted while forcing a style of music that was different and unappreciated.

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