The Jubilee Quartet of Norfolk or the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet?

December 9, 2010

Did you ever see Monty Python’s Life of Brian? A scene from that film sprung to mind when I was looking into the Norfolk jubilee scene of the 1920s-40s. You might recall it – when Brian encounters a Roman resistance group, the People’s Front of Judea, which has a long standing, bitter rivalry with the Judean People’s Front (and Judean Popular Front and the etc etc) that far exceeds their hatred for the Romans. (The scene can be viewed here).
When I saw that I had music from the Monarch Jazz / Jubilee Quartet of Norfolk, the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet, the Norfolk Four, and the Norfolk Jubilee Singers, I couldn’t help but wonder – are all these groups one and the same or are they all staunch rivals within the jubilee idiom? Norfolk, and the general tidewater area of Virginia, was a major center of jubilee singing, most famously producing the Golden Gate Quartet and others such as the Silver Leaf Quartet. A personal favorite are the Lomax recordings of the Bright Light Quartet from Weems, Virginia (info here).
After some digging it looks like Monarch Jazz/Jubilee and the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet/Singers are possibly one and the same (perhaps with a rotating cast of individuals). Researchers think that the more famous Norfolk Jubilee Quartet used the Monarch Jazz moniker to perform more secular, blues/jazz inflected music, as mixing in non-religious material could alienate pious fans (who represented a large portion of attendees at their shows). The Norfolk Four is a later group whose name unfortunately will likely be shadowed forever by a 90s rape/murder saga in which four Norfolk men were convicted under somewhat dubious circumstances (and it appears are currently in the process of being exonerated).
At any rate, if anyone out there has more info on this music, I’d love to know more as the singing is phenomenal.

First up, a song from the great compilation Gospel Quartets Vol. 2:

Didn’t it Rain – Norfolk Jubilee Quartet

This next track was given to me in a 700 song collection of gospel/spiritual/jubilee music from WFMU’s Sinner’s Crossroads by Mr. Malachy O’Neill. It is so beautiful it brings me to tears. Wait until just after the minute mark, when it gets into falsetto territory and you might see what I’m talking about.

Standing by the Bedside of a Neighbor – Norfolk Jubilee Singers

Lastly, a couple tracks from one of the cooler hard-to-obtain compilations given to me by my friend and guitarist extraordinaire Parrish Ellis, Virginia Roots: The 1929 Richmond Sessions. This is a two disc set of music recorded by engineers of the Okeh Recording Company over a five day period in Richmond in October 1929 featuring musicians from all around Virginia. In essence, by capturing the music of old-time string bands, afro-american quartets, jazz and blues acts and even a Hawaiian orchestra, it became a sort of microcosm of Virginian and in many ways American music of the time.

What’s The Matter Now – Monarch Jazz/Jubilee Quartet of Norfolk

This one sounds remarkably modern to me:

Four Or Five Times – Monarch Jazz/Jubilee Quartet of Norfolk


4 Responses to “The Jubilee Quartet of Norfolk or the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet?”

  1. Rick B Says:

    I was raised in New Jersey during the 60’s with the gospel Quarttet voices of the 40’s and 50’s. My Dad is a Virginian. I get it. I now see the connection. African american roots. I now live in Norfolk Va. I got a lot of reasearch to do.

  2. Johan Neij Says:

    Gosh, you got so much beautiful stuff here. I’ve been spending the last hour os so listening through lots and lots of your old posts and downloading most of the tracks I’ve heard. THANK YOU so much for these and many more!

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