Jubilee Quartets – Bringing the Rhythm & Repertoire to the 1800s

By Skkyler Ofoedu 

Jubilee is a genre that was created in the late nineteenth-century. It included sacred and secular stories that were told by various performers. The groups of individuals who created and performed music in this genre were known as Jubilee quartets. Jubilee quartets began forming in the late 1800s, as a solution to the financial hardships Black colleges were facing. Their style of music was like no other. Young and talented African-American men (and also women, just not as commonly) began forming into groups of, usually, four to six.

They would collaborate to create a distinct style of music consisting of a strong vocal ensemble, singing four part harmony either a Capella or with few instruments. Their sound created a rhythmic style of singing. An instrument normally associated with Jubilee quartets was the piano but, a lot of the variation in their sound was brought to life with their voices. These sounds that were created inspired many of the popular styles of music and genres we have today such as Beatboxing, Jazz and Blues.

Jubilee Quartets were initially created as a form of entertainment but, also to generate revenue. The Golden Gate Quartet, the most successful Jubilee quartet of the style, was founded in 1931 at the Booker T. Washington college in Norfolk, Virginia. They went on to create several songs that gained regular air time on a major radio station, WIS, based in Columbia, South Carolina. They were signed to a few major recording companies between the years 1937-1940, Bluebird Records, RCA Records and Columbia Records. Exploited by these various managers and labels, they never saw much of the money for their efforts.

As the audience of the quartet grew vastly, they began to draw the attention of politicians, as well. They wanted to use their outreach as a way to spread their campaign messages to a larger crowd. A popular song titled, “Stalin Wasn’t Stallin” was performed by them as propaganda for World War II. One of their most notable accomplishments was that they were the first black musical group to perform in Washington at a president’s inaugural ball. They went on to even go to Paris in 1959 and tour all over Europe for the next few years.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5s6d9lVRuE[/embedyt]

I feel as though, the Golden Gate Quartet is one of many Jubilee Quartets and groups of Black artists that set the stage for other Black artists to be able to thrive and be successful today. Their style and unique formations created a legacy that could never be duplicated but, will forever inspire artists to come.


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