Jubilee Quartets

Origins of The Jubilee quartet: 

The Jubilee quartet is a vocal ensemble that consist of a minimum of four voices and a maximum of six voices singing four-part harmony arrangements in either an a cappella style or with limited instrumentation. The Jubilee Quartet started in the mid 1800’s as outgrowth of the African American university singing movement. University singing movement emerged after American civil war and establishment of educational institutions for newly freed slaves. Some performance style of these first independent quartets was influenced from university quartet style except some contradicted rules. It consisted of first, second tenor, baritone, and bass there was a little emphasis on solo singing, but some quartets had members who sang falsetto leads and incorporated blue notes, grace notes and melisma’s. The bass singer provided the strong bottom chordal structures were basic triads.


Jubilee Quartets are based on the number of harmony parts. A Quartet consist of four to six members. The harmony parts include the bass (sings the lowest notes), baritone (narrator/lead singer), first tenor (sings the highest notes), and the second tenor. These singers embodied high rhythmic songs. This genre of music had three significant periods. The first period was the Jubilee period in which was a community-based group that lasted from (1880-1929). This group consisted of sharp notes/ sacred harp groups, barbershop community groups, and minstrel quartets. The second group was the transitional period. The last group was the gospel period during this period the music reflected on carrying the messages of Jesus Christ or singers telling personal testimonial stories of themselves.

Radio Commodification: 

Around the 1920s the radio became popular form of entertainment and news. Live radio broadcasting of Jubilee Quartet singing was very popular.  The Jubilee Quartets songs were played when some radio stations set a few hours on their station to “black programming”. Jubilee quartets also began touring on what was called a “touring circuit.” The first community based African American religious quartet to broadcast on the radio was the southern Aires. They performed on a Sunday morning which was during World War II.

Effect on Gospel:

The rise of gospel radio programming and the commercial recording industry propelled touring circuit. The circuit consisted of a chain of quartets and individuals that formed a channel of communication in a particular territory. They assisted quartets in arranging multiple city performance sites, helped locate housing and accommodations.

Important Performers: 

Influences of Future Genres

Jubilee Quartets had some influence on future genres. Some genres Jubilee Quartets had influence on was gospel music and the blues. Gospel music carries the characteristics of upbeat, rhythm and sacred texts. Jubilee Quartets also had some influence on the blues genre because of the story telling in the music.

Decline of the Jubilee Quartets:

Crossover of sacred soloists into popular entertainment led to the decline of Quartets. Quartet performances also declined because of a decrease in live radio broadcasts and commercial recordings public disapproval.

Conclusory Opinions:

The Jubilee Quartets we’re similar to Negro Spirituals the song told a story. These stories are sometimes relatable to the audience or sometimes more personal. Jubilee Quartets can be thought of as a branching off of negro spirituals. Jubilee Quartets were more focused on a male performer whereas Negro spirituals did not have a distinction of who was singing it in particular.  Jubilee Quartets portrayed more upbeat tempo and rhythm.

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