Quartet music originated around the 1880’s is compiled (in the African American sense) of at least four voices/instruments and at most six voices. Although, as opposed to Europeans, Africans defined a Quartet based on how many harmonies existed in the group, not how many were actually in the group. The jubilee quartets (acapella groups with use of only voices and guitars or drums of sorts), which a group of African American men normally sung, were categorized as a sub-genre to Gospel and consisted of aspects of African American tradition and culture. Originally, these quartets started in university groups, but shifted to African American churches, which created the base for African American religious groups today. The name “jubilee quartet” was originated at Fisk University by a group of negro spiritual singers, the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
Characteristics of quartets involve formal arrangements, close melodies, and a style of singing that was derived from European traditions of music called “flat footed.” Social implications of quartets include giving young African American men a feeling of somewhere to belong to and relate to in non-HBCUs. More importantly, some quartets used their fame in political issues. For example, the Golden Gate Quartet wrote and released “Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’ WWII” as propaganda in advocating for Stalin’s fight against Hitler. Quartets began earning money when Europeans decided to steal the style of Jubilee’s, bringing it to broadway, and also, take advantage of African American Jubilee Quartet artists, profiting off of them. As a sub-genre of gospel, jubilee quartets influenced the genre of gospel as a whole by introducing electric instruments like the electric guitar, certain beats and melodies from jazz and blues for example, and numbered harmonies (four parts and six parts) in parallel to Jubilee quartets. Important performers of Quartets include; The Golden Gate Quartet, the Dixie Jubilee Singers, Sam Cooke, and the Soul Stirrers.
Video examples of quartets are linked below;