An outgrowth of the African American university singing movement, this quartet tradition is an artistic form with a distinctive history and aesthetic expression that originated around the mid-1800s. It is important to note that, within the context of African American music, a quartet is defined by the number of designated harmony parts, not by the number of individuals singing. This is why there were sometimes five or even six voices singing for a quartet.
There were sub-genres of quartets including University, Minstrel, Community-based, Shape-Note/Sacred Harp, Barbershop Community, Gospel.
With time, African American quartets escaped European commodification and morphed to fit the interests, needs, and aesthetics of the African American community.