The group was founded as the Golden Gate Jubilee Singers in 1934, by four students at the Booker T. Washington College in Norfolk, Virginia. According to the group’s website, the original members were Willie Johnson (baritone; d. 1980), William Landford (tenor; d. 1970), Henry Owens (second tenor; d. 1970) and Orlandus Wilson (bass; 1917–1998); other sources state that Landford and Wilson replaced earlier members Robert “Peg” Ford and A.C. “Eddie” Griffin in 1935.
Their smooth Mills Brothers-influenced harmonies made the Gates naturals for pop crossover success, and they began recording for Victor in 1937. National radio broadcasts and an appearance on John Hammond‘s 1938 “Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall made them coast-to-coast favorites. By 1941 the Gates were recording for Columbia minus Langford, and movie appearances were frequent: Star Spangled Rhythm, Hollywood Canteen, and Hit Parade of 1943, to name a few. Some experiments with R&B material didn’t pan out during the late ’40s, and Johnson defected to the Jubilaires in 1948. The group emigrated to France in 1959; led by veteran bass singer Orlando Wilson, the Golden Gate Quartet‘s vocal blend is as powerful as ever.