How it All Began

The Transitional Period 1930 – 1945 

The group was founded as “The Golden Gate Jubilee Singers” in 1934. The group was formed by four students at Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, Virginia. The original members were Willie Johnson (baritone), William Langford (tenor), Henry Owens (second tenor), and Orlandus Wilson (bass). 

The group would sing in churches and on the radio. Their sound came from a combination of barbershop quartet arrangements with blues and jazz rhythms. They gained popularity from their unique sound and ability to imitate train sounds in their songs. 

Elements of Jubilee Quartets

  • Blue Notes:  A note, sounded or suggested that falls between two adjacent notes in the standard Western division of octave, most often the third or seventh degrees in a scale. 
  • Polyrhythm: Several contrasting rhythms played or simultaneously.
  • Melisma: A single syllable sung over several pitches. 
  • Grace Note: A short ornamental note performed as an embellishment before the principal pitch.
  • Gospel Quartet: Male or female ensemble of four to six voices singing close vocal harmonies, featuring melismatic lead singers and instrumental accompaniment of drums, guitar, and bass. 

Similar Acts


  • Inducted into the The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998
  • The song “Jezebel” from 2000 Liquid (Recoil album) is based on the Golden Gate Quartet’s sample
  • Paul Simon used excerpts from their 1938 recording of “Golden Gate Gospel Train” to mic into Simon’s song, “Love & Blessings”.
  • Inducted into the gospel Music Hall of Fame in. 2010 

Thesis Statement: The Golden Gate Quartet were one of the first black singing groups who were able to manipulate a genre into their own sound.

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