Paschall Brothers: Page 3
Many of the region’s quartets went on to sing for much larger audiences. The first local group to do so was the Hampton Institute Quartette, Tidewater’s earliest identifiable black quartet. Hampton Institute was one of many schools established after the Civil War to educate African Americans, and the school raised money with a touring chorus of students. The first tour, in 1873, appears to have included a quartet, but by the early 1880s, the Hampton Institute Quartette was a distinct group. The Hampton Quartette performed extensively in the United States and overseas until the 1940s.
Performance venues for Tidewater quartets ranged widely. Groups such as the Norfolk Jazz/ Jubilee Quartet and the Southland Jubilee Singers worked the East Coast vaudeville circuit. The silver leaf Quartet of Norfolk toured as far north as Canada and as far west as North Dakota, playing venues ranging from churches to tobacco factories. The Four Pennies were discovered on a Norfolk street corner in 1934 and were soon singing to New York theater audiences. In 1922 Portsmouth’s Excelsior Quartette toured with the renowned Mamie Smith.
The American quartet scene grew dramatically in the 1920s with the advent of radio and records. Recording companies began to produce records targeted specifically at African American buyers, and numerous Tidewater quartets- the Golden Gate Quarter, the Sparkling Four Quartette, the Silver Leaf Quartet, the Golden Crown Quartet, the Norfolk Jazz/Jubilee Quartet, to name just a few- provided wonderful performances for the record market. In the 1930s Norfolk’s Golden Gate quartet, led by Willie Johnson, added a new element to the Tidewater quartet tradition, an up-tempo, vocally percussive sound that influenced many of the quartets to follow- including the Paschalls. Their “rhythm spirituals” carried the Golden Gates to stardom in major movies, on network radio broadcasts, and in concerts and clubs nationwide. Over the next two decades the group produced scores of records. In the late 1950s the Golden Gate Quartet saw their future musical market was in Europe rather than the United States, and the group moved to France.
By the time the Golden Gate Quartet left for Europe, the African American quartet tradition was losing much of its identity in Tidewater and throughout the nation. As early as the 1930s, groups were adding guitar accompaniment- a musical crutch in the eyes of some of the more conservative singers. Instruments became electrified, gospel performers and promoters booked larger halls, and musical groups began to prefer a “larger” sound than four-part a cappella singing. Gradually the norm for the gospel music scene became a lead singer backed by a chorus and/or a guitar-bass-drums-piano/organ band. The locals Tidewater quartets continued singing into the 1970s but the number of active harmony groups declined as the singers became elderly. Since the 1980s the Paschalls have stepped forward to carry the a cappella quartet sound.