Jubilee Quartets: The Golden Gate Quartet

The Golden Gate Quartet

The Golden Gate Quartet is the most popular Jubilee Quartet from the era of 1880-1929. A transition from the Jubilee Quartet style to the Gospel Quartet style occurred the 1930s, which is really when interest and popularity of the quartet music genre occurred (1930s-1950s).



The Golden Gate Quartet was formed in 1934 by four high school students at Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, Virginia. The four members were Willie Johnson, the lead singer and baritone, William Landford, tenor singer, Henry Owens, second tenor singer, and Orlandus Wilson, bass singer. 

Originally, they sang in local churches and radio stations. Their early singing style was that of a traditional jubilee quartet style. In 1937, they won a contract with Bluebird Records in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1938, their popularity grew since they made an appearance at the first From Spirituals to Swing Concert in New York City at Carnegie Hall. During this rise in popularity, there influence was so great that their 1938 recording of the song ‘John the Revelator’, which was inducted into the National Recording Registry in 2005. Besides performing at Carnegie Hall, the group also performed at the nightclub Cafe Society.


The peak of popularity of the Golden Gate Quartet took place during World World II and a little bit after World War II. Due to their major success in New York City, they were given the opportunity to sign a new contract the subsidiary label of Columbia Records, Okeh in 1940. It was during the 1940s when the group gained nationwide fame and attention. In 1941, they sang at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration. At this event, The Golden Gate Quartet became the first African-American musical group to sing at Constitutional Hall. After this, they continued to do several performances at the White House.

The group continued to be popular during World War II and had several Hollywood appearances in films and performed secular music. The quartet had some unique and popular front songs, such as ‘Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’, which was song that displayed humor and political commentary.

By the 1950s, the group started losing prominence and popularity due to new musical genre eras beginning, such as gospel. Another reason for their decline in popularity was because of new gospel groups forming that were more modern and did not have the traditional style of the Golden Gate Quartet. These groups included The Dixie Hummingbirds and The Soul Stirrers. Another contributing factor to a decline in popularity was that the original members left the group either because of being drafted into the war or to due other endeavors.

However, in 1955, the new line up of he Golden Gate Quartet gave the group name it’s popularity back when they did their first official tour of Europe and had tremendous success. In 1959, the group relocated to Paris and continues to still tour in Europe today.peak

The Golden Gate Quartet has had a lasting legacy on the music industry in America. They have influenced many Motown music groups such as Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and The Temptations. The group also helped pave the way for more career opportunities for black music artists in America. In 1998, after being long overdue, the group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. None of the original members of the group were alive at this time. The Golden Gate Quartet has received much praise and recognition for influencing gospel and blues music as well.

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