Jubilee Quartets


The Jubilee tradition originated in the 1800s with college choirs of southern Black institutions.  Throughout the nineteenth century “Jubilee” was used to designate those spirituals who were of a joyous character, and to refer to the entire body of spirituals. Jubilee quartets were influenced by the musical practices of the Black sanctified church. Jubilee quartets were described as  using “hot” and “cool” styles. “Hot” to refer to its orientation to the folk style and “cool” to portray its urban orientation. The genre was rhythmic, dynamic, and fun.  The Jubilee tradition started out as a way for universities to gain support for their financial woes. Who knew the genre would grow into much more. The genre began as a sub-genre of Gospel music as the men would sing scared lyrics in a new musical style. As the years passed and the genre gained popularity the lyrics shifted from sacred to secular.

The Music

This genre of music is not described by the number of people present in the group. instead “Jubilee Quartet”  described the way in which various harmonies will be sung. This genre of music was not only unique it its style, but it was unique in its execution. The quartets were comprised of 4-6 singers, all with incredible vocal abilities. The voices were exposed (since this was an a capella style of music) and thus the strength of each voice was important. The quartet was usually comprised of a tenor, baritone, base, and a soloist. These voices would have to work together to create incredible and perfectly meshed sound that would wow audiences. This genre was both secular and sacred but it always expressed grave emotion and passion. This particular genre of music include some key elements. Some of these musical elements are blue notes, Hocket, and melisma.

Blue notes: Blue notes (or a “worried” note) is a note that

Hocket: is the rhythmic linear technique using the alternation of notes, pitches, or chords.

Melisma: a group of notes sung to one syllable of text

Jubilee Quartet Popularized and Commodified


Song Battles: song battles were competitions where quartet would keep for the admiration and approval of audience and trophies. Song battles would take place in the community and were heavily based on the execution of the music and performance. It was never about money or the opportunity to sign a deal. Winning a song battle meant you were at the top of your musical game in the jubilee world

Radio: After the popularization of this genre it became commodified and monetized through radio broadcasting. The Southernaires were the first quartet to perform on the radio and they paved the way for many quartet radio performances to come. Radio broadcast saved the genre during WW2 as it was the only way people were exposed to quartet singing. During WW2 the production of vinyls dropped drastically and the entire industry was on its way out.  In a sense, live radio was the only way to ensure the survival of such a popular genre


Jubilee Quartets in my opinion were the start of complex and challenging music in African American culture. This genre spoke to Blacks’ ability to transcend from one genre to the next seamlessly. From gospel to jubilee Black for were looking for more outlets to express their undeniable artist abilities.


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