The African American Jubilee Quartet is a genre of music that began in the mid-1800s and its impact has permeated through the twentieth century and current day. A genre with both Africans and Western influences, Jubilee quartets are unique for their four-part harmonies of voices or instruments. Jubilee quartets are usually performed a cappella, but they occasionally are accompanied with instruments.
In the United States, the university jubilee quartet was created by historically black colleges and universities in the late 1800s to raise money and promote the colleges to all who would listen. Though majority of these schools resided in the South, the quartets traveled far and wide to raise money for their schools. From these university quartet tours, jubilee quartets became pretty popular and well-known around the country.
To no surprise, the rise of black excellence was demeaned and ridiculed by their white counterparts. Minstrel theater were comprised of performances by white people in black face who mocked and mimicked African-Americans. Shows included singing, dancing, and imitated African American dialect that shows the how black people were perceived through the white gaze. After university jubilee quartets gained more popularity, minstrel shows began to feature them in their performances.
Ridiculing the university jubilee quartets provides yet another example of the way that caucasians work tirelessly to impose their supposed domination and supremacy over African Americans. In mocking the efforts of the university jubilee quartets, White Americans showed their incessant desire to degrade black people and that desire is still seen today as the stereotypes and discrimination has not died down, but changed form.
Luckily, African Americans were able to change the narrative of the jubilee quartets for the better. Black minstrels shows began to develop and represented the jubilee quartets as it was designed for spiritual entertainment. Quartets became more popular as barbershops and communities began to develop their own quartets. Touring circuits and radio broadcasting only demonstrates the love for quartets that Americans developed.
Through the abasement of jubilee quartets, African Americans rose above all of the hate and developed a genre of music that is loved and revered by many.
Below is an audio of the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, one of the most prominent university quartets.
Burnim, M. V. & Maultsby, P. K. (2015). African American Music: An Introduction, Second Edition. Routledge.