Saturday, September 17, 2011

Swinging Low and Holy: The Golden Gate Quartet

Swing Low Sweet Chariot (W.H. Johnson)

Eighty years ago four young and devout Christian boys from Virginia formed a singing group. They called themselves The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet and sang in churches around Virginia, Washington DC and the Carolinas.  Their singing style was called Jubilee gospel. It had been ‘invented’ by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers which in the early 20th century took the singing of Negro spirituals out of the mixed voice church choirs and placed them into the repertoire of small (mainly) male vocal groups.  The style caught on and became the dominant form of gospel music until after WWII.
Fisk Jubilee Singers

The tight multipart harmonies (not dissimilar to barbershop quartet singing) became so popular the Jubilee style groups were soon singing on radio, in nightclubs and even in movies. The greatest of the Jubilee gospel quartets was the Golden Gate Quartet.  In fact, the group’s reputation has extended so far beyond that narrow sub-genre the Golden Gate Quartet is one of the top 5 or 6 musical groups in American popular music.  In fact, the name is almost a brand. The group’s members have changed so many times over the decades but it still exists as a singing group.

Golden Gate Quartet ca 1940

The peak of the original GGQ’s popularity was in the 1930s-50s when they gained a huge national and international audience. Led by William Langford who could switch from falsetto to baritone in the course of one song, the Quartet sang regularly on the radio and over time introduced blues and R&B elements into their style which only widened their popularity. Indeed, like many gospel singers and groups, they traded in a mix of religious and secular songs and individual members left to join purely secular pop groups such as the Ink Spots and The Dominoes.  In 1941 they were invited to sing at the Inauguration of President Franklin Roosevelt, one of the first African-American groups to receive the honor and visibility.  Hollywood came calling in the 1940s and the Gates starred or shared the screen with stars in a run of popular movies.

After the Second World War a new style of ‘hard’ gospel music emerged best exemplified by such groups as the Dixie Hummingbirds and Swans Silvertones. The Gold Gate Quartet’s popularity declined somewhat but the group continued to sing and tour. A group of men using the name still records under the name.

Tonight’s post is a collection of classic-period Golden Gate Quartet. Original members, tight harmonies, mostly acapella singing and a nice mix of mostly religious numbers with a secular songs tossed in.  One of the distinguishing elements of the Gates style was the fast syncopated singing of founding member Willie Johnson which is in ample evidence on a number of these tracks.  This is gospel and American popular music of the sweetest kind.  A slice of pure gold that should not be missed.

Track Listing:
01 Swing Down, Chariot
02 No Restricted Signs
03 The Sun Didn't Shine
04 Hush!
05 Jezebel
06 Moses Smote The Water
07 Shadrack
08 Atom And Evil
09 High, Low And Wide
10 Daniel Saw The Stone
11 Hold That Wind
12 Pray For The Lights To Go Out
13 God Told Nicodemus
14 My Time Done Come
15 Anyhow
16 God's Gonna Cut 'Em Down
17 Listen to the Lambs
18 Didn't It Rain
19 Wade In The Water
20 Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho

Listen here.


Rebecca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca said...

Can't wait to have a listen!

Anonymous said...

dear can u upload scans of
Iqbal Bano - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vo. 1
Iqbal Bano - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vo. 2
Mehdi Hasan - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 3
Mehdi Hasan - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 4
Ghulam Ali - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 5
Ghulam Ali - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 6
Farida Khanum - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 7
Farida Khanum - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 8
Ijaz Hussain Hazarvi - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 9
Ustad Amanat Ali Khan - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 10
Ustad Barkat Ali Khan - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 11
Mehnaz Begum - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 12
Hamid Ali Khan - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 13
Salamat Ali - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 14
Mukhtar Begum - Music Pakistan - Ghazals - Vol. 15
reply pls and send the scans to
my email id is

Anonymous said...

I mean scans of the cd covers(front ,back and inclay).i will be wait for your reply

Anonymous said...

One of their records was the music of my youth. Thank you. A very nice collection on your blog!