Paschall Brothers: Page 2
The Tidewater Quartet Legacy
Though scarcely a handful of African American a cappella quartets sing in Virginia today, black four-part harmony groups were singing in Virginia at least as early as the mid-1800s. The popularity of quartet singing among black males grew rapidly. Tidewater alone produced over two hundred such groups in the century following the Civil War- an era when Newport News, Hampton, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Norfolk became a destination point for African Americans. Offering a combination of government and maritime jobs, Norfolk in particular developed into a vibrant black cultural center.
The history of Tidwater’s quartet scene is filled with hosts of singers. At its core the African American quartet tradition was built upon groups of four males singing bass-baritone-tenor-lead arrangements without any musical instruments. Until the mid-1930s these harmony groups sang primarily in straightforward slow or moderate tempos, and their repertoires-usually exclusively sacred-mixed tunes and lyrics from spirituals as well as from more-contemporary hymns and gospel songs.
Not surprisingly, the church was the most common context for Tidewater quartet performances, but four-part singing went far beyond the church setting. The late Rev. Frank Paschall. The founding father of the Paschalls, spoke of talented harmony groups singing recreationally on street corners when he was younger. Until the 1930s Tidewater quartets often competed in organized singing contests in which the groups were judged not only on their vocal blending but also on their articulation, appearance, and timing. Those quartets that sang jazz, the general term singers of the time used for nonreligious music, carried the quartet sound into clubs and theaters.