The Birth of the Beatboxer: Jubilee Quartets
Early forms of black music such as negro spirituals and folk music were created for the intent of passing time, conveying messages, and mental escape, but the late nineteenth and early twentieth century gave rise to a new genre of music, The Jubilee Quartet, with its major purpose being to entertain.
Jubilee Quartets were created as a way to gain financial support for black colleges in America. The quartet consisted of 4 to 6 voices singing in a formal arrangement of a 4 part harmony. One key characteristic of Jubilee music was its acapella sound. It also incorporated styles such as melisma, hocket, and blue notes.
The commodification of this genre began with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. This African American group traveled all over, singing for it’s college’s financial gain. Because of their popularity and success, Fisk University became the first university to establish a tour to provide its own financial cushion. With the formation of other notable bands such as The Golden Gate Quartet, The Fairfield Four, and the Dixie Hummingbirds, there were Quartet competitions held at churches, high schools, and community centers where each group would battle through song.
Quartets contributed to the evolution of Gospel, but in my opinion it extends far beyond, giving inspiration to another music subsect in Hip-Hop – Beatboxing. Beat boxers are artists who use their bodies, mouths, and voices for producing music. The acapella sound of the quartet and the substitution of harmonic vocals as instruments, directly parallels the beatboxer’s talent in using one’s own body or vocal chords to imitate sound and instrumental arrangements.