Jubilee quartets originated in the mid-1800s. Starting in universities these were generally groups with between four and six African American males. These groups originally started to sing what was a transformation of spirituals. These groups would typically consist of a base, baritone, first and second tenor. Highly regarded quartets such as the Soul Stirrers and the Golden Gate Quartet sung together in ways which were more refined than spirituals and folk music. they were able to sing in tight harmonies and rhythms, sometimes with a lead.
In the early 1900s, many black people were moving up north with hopes of finding more economic and social opportunities, including religion. This music was very appealing and was fitting as they originated during the Great Awakening, when people wanted to hear spiritual music but in a more upbeat and untraditional way. These quartets had become very popular and would perform on the radio and on tours. They had brought a new groove to music that would be the foundation of other genres. This style of music would later influence and become gospel, jazz, soul, the blues and even rock and roll.
The quartets’ influence is obvious as you hear songs from each genre. Some songs that were once sung by these quartets we slightly tweaked and renamed something else, meanwhile the base rhythm and style remained the same. This is proven in Golden Gate’s ‘Swing Down Sweet Chariot”, which Elvis Presley later sung and financially benefitted from. These groups were also exploited by their record companies who saw their potentials, and knew how to market them. The influence of jubilee quartets is not lost on me, in fact learning about them opened my eyes and showed me another degree at which African American culture was unfairly profited off of. I see that there are still strong remnants of their style in groups such as Take 6, which I can appreciate.
Written by: Jasmine