Jubilee Quartets

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The Jubilee era started in the mid-1800’s after the abolition of slavery. Jubilee quartets were four to six voices, singing four-part harmony arrangements in a capella style or with limited instrumentation. An African American quartet was defined by the number of designated harmony parts, as opposed to the number of group members.  Most jubilee quartet songs are strophic; meaning a single melody is repeated with a different set of lyrics for each stanza. There are also different forms of quartets like community-based quartets, university, and minstrel jubilee that had their own unique style. White people began their own jubilee quartets too, they were Minstrel quartets.

In the beginning, this form of music was created to help black colleges gain financial support. Fisk university was the first university to go on tour, soon after Norfolk, Hampton, and other institutions established their own quartets as well. In the 1940’s, Quartet Competitions or song battles began. These battles took place in community streets to see who was the best. The barbershop was another popular place for Jubilee Quartet singers to sing.

The college touring and competition movement eventually led to radio broadcasting in 1941. During the evolution of Jubilee Quartets, groups such as The Golden Gate Quartets, Dixie Jubilee Singers, and the Mills Brothers emerged to contribute to this genre. Jubilee quartets were used as war propaganda and were secular war tunes. The Jubilee music groups influenced the evolution of African American music and helped bring about gospel music in 1950.

Often times now, Jubilee quartets are no longer discussed but it’s impact on gospel music is still evident in gospels sound today. It’s interesting to think of how music groups are not as popular today, but back then had so much success. Before this course, I had not heard of the Jubilee Quartets but now I see they were an integral part of the evolution from negro spirituals to gospel music.

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