The Transitional Period

The transitional period revolutionized the concept of the jubilee quartet. 

What Was It?

The transitional period lasted from 1930-45. During this time period, the great migration was eminent; African Americans relocated from the South to the North to better their opportunities. University and community quartets began to shift from their traditional sound to gospel repertoire and performance style. This shift was characterized by the newfound emphasis on the bass and solo voices. This ignited the notoriety of soloists such as Rufus F. Williams of the Ensley Jubilee Singers and William Bobo of the Dixie Hummingbirds. This new sound allowed community quartets to continue performing locally in churches and or tour professionally. Whether a quartet performed locally or toured outside of the community, the new sound and performance style was exhibited by both. The discrepancy arose with the song selections. Those who toured had to appease the masses-white people-with their selections before performing selections they preferred. These primary selections were usually demeaning towards blacks such as the tune “Old Black Joe”, which glorified blacks as slaves. Meanwhile, the local quartets also had to appease their crowds, but their crowds were black. They performed selections for their people.

New Sound; New Terms

With this new sound came new roles and terms in jubilee quartet music. The quartets expanded from 4 members to 5 members. This new member induced the introduction of the switch lead, which is also referred to as double or swing lead. This is essentially the existence of two lead singers. The leads take turns singing different verses of the same song. Another new musical aspect of this period is the fifth lead. This is when a lead can sing both baritone and falsetto. The next concept emphasizes the prominence of the bass singer during this period; it is the walking or pumping bass. This was the foundation of the jubilee quartet sound fueled by rhythm and percussion. Along with these new terms that produced new sounds, the quartets incorporated the use of instruments to enhance their sound. 

Song Battles

Song battles were competitions where quartets would battle for prizes. These prizes would range from radio broadcasts, recording contracts, or just recognition. The winners of these battles were either determined by professional judges or the audience. Regardless of who determined the winner, the criteria for every battle was the same. Quartets were judged based on their harmony, attire, posture, voices, pronunciation, and just overall presentation. These competitions were publicized by black newspapers such as the Chicago Defender and the Louisiana Weekly. Song battles ensured that the prestige of the jubilee quartets was maintained; this elevated the status of African Americans during this period. It showcased Blacks in a different light; a professional light. It shed positivity on the black community, and allowed them to escape their gruesome past. 

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