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Norfolk Jubilee Quartet

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The Beginning

The Norfolk Jubilee Quartet, initially known as the Norfolk Jazz, was the most renowned and impactful jubilee quartet to emerge from Virginia in the 1900s. The group was founded by bass singer Len Williams and baritone Delroy Hollins. They began to perform publicly as early as 1919, where they specialized in jazz and blues, but were also known to sing gospel.

Members

Lenny Williams

Co-founder of the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet, Len Williams was the group’s bass singer. His ability to scat in the bass clef played a pivotal role in creating the group’s distinct sound. Williams took over as manager when Delroy Hollins quit following a disagreement between the two.

Delroy Hollins

Co-founder of the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet, Delroy Hollins doubled as a baritone and a manager for the group. He opened his living room to the group for rehearsing. Hollins quit the group after a disagreement with Len Williams.

Otto Tutson

Otto Tutson sang lead tenor in the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet. Tutson quit in the early 30s for reasons unknown.

James "Buddy" Butts

James Butts sang tenor in the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet. His career was cut short, as his life ended only a year after the group cut its first record when he was stabbed by an irate girlfriend.

Norman "Crip" Harris

Norman Harris was chosen to replace James Butts as the second tenor of the group. He became lead tenor when Otto Tutson quit the group.

Raymond Smith

Norman Harris was chosen to replace James Butts as the second tenor of the group. He became lead tenor when Otto Tutson quit the group.

Melvin Codten

Melvin Codten became the baritone of the quartet in the 30s.

The Come Up

The Norfolk Jazz cut their first record with Okeh in 1921. Soon after, they began performing alongside prominent artists, such as Mamie Smith and Miller & Lyles. Years after James Butts passed away, they began to transition into gospel and recorded under the name “Norfolk Jubilee”.

The Great Depression

Once the Great Depression hit, the group retreated back to Norfolk, Virginia and performed at small parties. Once the 30s hit, the group consisted of Len Williams, Norman Harris, and newcomers Norman Harris and Raymond Smith. The new Norfolk Jubilee began performing over radio and eventually signed to Decca in 1937, where they started recording more secular music.

The End

The group fell apart when Len Williams died of asphyxiation on June 2, 1940. Melvin Codten tried desperately to hold the group together but was unsuccessful. Codten went on to perform with the Selah Jubilees and the Master Keys. Norman Harris also sang with the Selah Jubilees until he was killed while walking down the street. Raymond Smith became a bartender but also found a spot with the Cabineers.

The Legacy

The Norfolk Jubilee Quartet had a great impact on the today’s musical palette. One thing the group was known for was their scat-like rhythmic patterns, which is heavily incorporated into jazz music today. The group also produced some of the most sacred gospel songs in existence.

My Opinion

I believe the versatility of the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet is what makes them so remarkable. They initially started out singing jazz, a genre in which they flourished and had a heavy influence on later. The group was then able to prosper as a gospel group, and make an easy transition back into secular music. Not many groups are able to hop flawlessly across genres as the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet did. This group deserves much more credit than they are given.

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