The Emergence of Gospel Quartets: Praising God in the Twentieth Century
A "Quartet" Doesn't Always Mean Four Singers
The emergence of gospel quartets in rural North Carolina during the first half of the twentieth century can be traced to a number of earlier influences such as congregational and church choir singing of spirituals and hymns, the singing of traditional African-American songs while at work in the fields or with family members in the home, and the appearance of new kinds of performing groups that ranged from the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Hampton Institute Quartette to local groups of male singers who sang in their churches and at prayer meetings. Called "quartets," the first of these Church-based groups often consisted of more (and sometimes even one person less) than four members. "Quartets," observes folklorist Glenn Hinson, "incorporated the close harmonies of workers singing in the fields, the falsetto of the hollers, the bass phrasings of the rhythmic worksongs, and the syncopated beat of congregational handclapping into a unique musical sound that is still the basis of modern gospel music."
Bertha's Father on Music in the Church
The liveliest of unaccompanied vocal styles developed and popularized among black
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World War II and Migration to the North Affect the Southern Gospel Scene
Not only military service during the war, but migration out of the South by kin and friends leaving farm work for jobs in the urban North regularly depleted and rearranged the quartets of Granville County. Fleming Landis left for industrial Akron, Ohio, in 1946. Also searching for a wage-paying job, Robert Landis first joined his brother in Ohio, then his sister, Jessie Mae, who had moved to Newark, New Jersey. When formed in the late 1950s, the Golden Echoes group merged two gospel quartets that had lost several members in preceding years: the Rising Stars of Creedmoor and a group formerly known as the Nightingales of Kittrell (a community twenty milesnortheast of Creedmoor). The Nightingales had been renamed the "Golden Echoes" by one of gospel music's most widely respected groups, the Dixie Hummingbirds; when the two quartets merged, they decided to keep the new name.
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John Landis Turns Down a Place in Chicago's Soul Stirrers to Stay Home
Into the Golden Echoes from the Rising Stars came two Landis brothers, the lead singer and manager, John (b. l925), and baritone singer Claude (b. l933). Later, their nephew Kenneth Daniel (b. 1954) was added as a lead guitar player. In joining the Echoes, John Landis made a clear choice against a career of performing on the road. While still singing with the Rising Stars, Mr. Landis was offered a job with Chicago's Soul Stirrers, a nationally popular quartet who had just lost their best-known singer, Sam Cooke, to a career in rhythm and blues. "We had appeared several times with the Soul Stirrers," John Landis recalls, "and our styles were very similar. In September or October of 1957, the Soul Stirrers came to look for me in Raleigh and offered me $150 plus royalties to go on the road with them. I talked it over with my wife—we had been married two weeks—and was almost ready to go when she asked them how often I'd be home. They said two to three times a year. She told me to drop it. I gave up on going on the road right then."
Into the Golden Echoes from the Kittrell contingent of former Nightingales came Wilburt "Johnny" Malone (b. 1939), who plays bass guitar. The Nightingales also contributed a lead singer, Ronald Perry (b. 1941), and another singer, Luther Foster (b. 1936), who specializes in falsetto, but who is adept at singing several vocal parts. From the Kittrell community also came a later member of the Golden Echoes, Andrew Green (b. 1941), a "new man" who had been with the group only five years when we began the film. "Give him five or six more years," we were told, "and he may become a pretty good singer." In A Singing Stream, Mr. Green is seen singing "back-up." He has since begun taking his turn at singing lead.
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How the Golden Echoes Work Together
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Grandson Kenneth Daniel Brings His Guitar into Church
With the wider acceptance of drums and electric instruments (especially bass and lead guitars) in the performance of sacred music, the quartets of the post-World War II gospel era felt the influence of contemporary rhythm and blues styles as heard on radio and record and in nightclubs, as well as the lively musicianship of Holiness and Pentecostal performers. Although the youngest members of the Golden Echoes—guitar players Kenneth Daniel and Sydney Brodie, and drummer Stanley Brodie—enjoy listening to and a wide variety of secular music, the older members continue to sing and perform only religious material.
"At one time," says Bertha Landis's grandson Kenneth Daniel, "if you were in a spiritual group and you went out and played rock and roll, you were more or less condemned. People didn't want you to bring that same guitar you played with on a Saturday night into the church on Sunday. But that's changed a lot. Music is music to me. An E is an E, an F is an F whether you play it in a church or outside with a band. I've been playing in the church since I was a child, but I don't limit my music to just church music."
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