Jubilee Quartets

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Origin & Characteristics of the Genre

Jubilee Quartet is a musical genre that originated in the mid nineteenth century that derives from negro spiritual and folk music. There were three periods of quartets; The Jubilee Period lasting from 1880- 1929, The Transitional Period lasting from 1930- 1945, and The Gospel Period lasting from 1946- 1969. Jubilee Quartets usually consisted of a minimum of 4 people and a maximum of 6 people. The number of people in the group does not define if it is a quartet or not, but the positions and harmony parts do. In a quartet there is a bass, baritone, first tenor, and second tenor. The bass singer had the lowest voice and was often seen singing the deep thum sounds. The baritone singer was often the narrator or lead singer in the group and sung in grace notes, blue notes, and melisma’s. The first tenor was seen mimicking instruments with their high voices and the second tenor was seen harmonizing with the rest of the group. Many quartet were a Capella, but occasionally there were some instruments like guitars, bass, and drums.


 Social Implications, Commodification & Influence of Future Genres

Just like negro spirituals and folk music, jubilee quartets sung about their lives and hardships. The difference is that quartets added beats and sometimes some instruments. In the late 1920s jubilee quartets began to play on the radio. In the mid 1940s there was a shortage of shellac causing a vinyl disc industry to have to begin to close down. This allowed musicians to gain more radio opportunities. Because the majority of the population had radios many companies took that to their advantage and allowed jubilee quartets to do things like sing a jingle or a song to advertise their products. Jubilee Quartets had a huge impact on gospel music. They also influenced ragtime, rock and roll, and blues.


Important Performers

Golden Gate Quartet


Norfolk, Virginia

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Five Blind Boys

1939- present


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The Pilgrim Travelers

Early 1930s- present

Houston, Texas

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Jubilee Quartets were very important for African American music especially in the genre of gospel. African American music aligns with the history of African Americans. Negro spirituals began as an outlet for slaves and they told their stories through their music. Around the same time slaves were freed jubilee quartets began. These quartets took the music and stories told in negro spirituals and put beats behind it. Just as African Americans were given a new freedom they took their music and added to it.







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