The Pilgrim Jubilees

Members:

  • Clay Graham
  • Cleve Graham
  • Bobby McDougal
  • Ben Chandler
  • Michael Atkins
  • Eddie Graham
  • Fred Rice

Former Members:

  • Elgie Graham
  • Willie Johnson
  • Theophilles Graham
  • Monroe Hatchett
  • Leonard Brownlee
  • Major Roberson
  • Kenneth Madden
  • Richard Crume
  • Percy Clark
  • Roosevelt English

Origin

Jubilee is a subgenre of gospel music that was established in the 19th century. It originated among the university singing movement, featuring several HBCU’s (eg. Fisk University, Hampton University, Morehouse College, Dillard University, etc). Joining the wave of popularity for jubilee, The Pilgrim Jubilees were established in 1934 by Elgie Graham and Willie Johnson as a duo, originating in Houston, Mississippi. 

Characteristics

Song form in which a single melody is repeated with a different set of lyrics for each stanza

A note that falls between 2 adjacent notes in the standard Western division of octane

A short ornamental performed as an embellishment before the principle pitch

A single syllable sung over several pitches

Interlocking patterns shared by 2 or more voices or instruments that produce a single melody

Several contrasting rhythms played or sung simultaneously

Alternation of verses/phrases in a single song between 2 lead singers

Social Implications

As quartets were on the rise within the Black community, it also caught the attention of Whites. This led to wider audiences and more popularity for the musicians involved. Because their audiences were becoming more diverse, the quartets would often have to incorporate a song that would entertain not only the Blacks, but also the Whites. Quartets started to perform songs that were rooted in racism, including stereotypes of plantation life for slaves. The musicians viewed this as the price to pay for having more exposure and larger audiences.

Commodification

The style of the barbershop quartet was often replicated during minstrelsy shows, mocking the Black musicians. As the style rose to peak popularity, minstrel companies featured both Black and White quartet groups. The goal of these quartets were for entertainment purposes, and started to become more commercial.

Influence of Genres

Quartets heavily influenced gospel music during its time. It also influenced future genres, such as R&B, Jazz, and more.

Conclusion

The Pilgrim Jubilees played a pivotal role in shaping an entire musical genre. Today, based in Chicago, they stand as senior statesmen of gospel music.