The Golden Gate Quartet are unique and legendary.
They were talented and young when they first got together, had a great passion for music, while their only musical training came from their experience as ‘choir children’ at their churches.
From this modest beginning they became world – wide famous, uniquely performing, from 1934 till today, with a few replacements…
They excited the audience at every forum where they performed.
The Golden Gate Quartet were not the only singers to sing these genres of music, but they did it perfectly!
They first got together as four students from Booker T. Washington college (Virginia): Willie Johnson (baritone), William Langford (tenor), Henry Owens (second tenor) and Orlandus Wilson (bass), in 1934. With their passion for music, they founded THE GOLDEN GATE JUBILEE SINGERS, which was their first name.
Coming from very religious families, the four young men have participated from their childhood in the “junior choir” of their church and then in musical groups, there they heard several musical styles, which they adapted and codified, singing sentences of old traditional chants. The “Gate’s Style”, the ‘spiritual’ music, is thus born of the interpretation of texts reconstituting the atmosphere of the dramatic events lived by the black people, in the USA.
At first, they sang in churches and on local radio stations.
The Golden Gate Jubilee Singers:
‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’
Just listen to the beautiful harmony, vocal combination and emotional sound they create, in this Gospel music.
They were influenced by The Mills Brothers, adopting some of their vocal processes, such as the imitation of musical instruments by the voice.
1936 was a turning point for the Quartet.
As they arrived in Columbia (South Carolina), they asked the local radio director to ‘sing live’ on his radio. He gave them 10 minutes, to sing 3-4 songs. The audience’s reaction was immediate. A lot of people rang asking for the name of the group.
Orlandus Wilson recalls: “The director of the radio station was just as enthusiastic, and proposed, we animate a ‘daily slot’, five days a week, from the following week”. This developed their fame rapidly.
There were many offers for concerts in churches, but at the same time they confronted opposition of certain pastors to this style of interpretation, considered too eccentric, too rhythmic, in spite of its religious character and its sound richness. It didn’t stop them, on the contrary, they flourished.
The Mills Brothers: ‘Swing It, Sister’
Singing- imitating a whole orchestra was a musical style the Mills Brothers performed, which The Golden Gate Jubille Singers adopted. You can hear them in the next song.
The Golden Gate Jubilee Singers: ‘My Walking Stick’
Try and count the different musical instruments being sang…
In 1937, they recorded, for their first time, for ‘Bluebird Records’ company. They recorded 14 titles in less than two hours! A musical achievement which deserves inclusion in the ‘Book of Records’!
Charmed by the natural ease with which the music of ‘The Golden Gate Jubilee Singers’ builds a bridge between traditional church concerts and swing, the celebrated jazz critic, John Hammond, also the producer of a series of concerts: “Spirituals to swing”, invites the group to perform at ‘Carnegie Hall’, Manhattan, New York, on December 23rd 1938. This success has a ‘snowball effect’, 4 days later they perform at the prestigious ‘Café Society’. The ‘spiritual’ makes its entry into cabaret… with a remarkable success.
By 1939, The quartet created a real enthusiasm from the American audience. Sensitive to their ‘spiritual style’, different from ‘gospel’, by its rhythmic arrangements of biblical subjects, each title reproducing the same pattern: one of the members of the group narrates the story as a soloist, accompanied on a rhythmic base by the other three voices in harmony. Unlike ‘gospel’ which leaves each voice free to improvise and break away on its own whenever desired, ‘spirituals’ respect structured arrangements… a style to which the group sometimes add the interpretation of folk songs and popular music, till this very day.
The Golden Gate Quartet: ‘Down By The Riverside’
In the early 40’s CBS suggested to change their name to: The Golden Gate Quartet, and they record “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho”, a title which remains to this day one of the peaks of their repertoire. Equally famous: “Swing down chariot”, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen”, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt is reelected, they are the first black group to be “authorized”, invited, to sing in the “Constitution Hall”, at the White House. This was a major, & huge achievement at the time. In these years they undertake their first tour outside the United States, to Mexico, they also make their first, but not last, movie in Hollywood for Paramount: “Star Spangled Rhythm”.
These new experiences opened the doors to numerous tours around the world after the WW2, till today. Their first visit to Israel was in 1963. For a few years they lived in Paris, as Europe became their base for endless performances and successful tours.
The Golden Gate Quartet: ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho’
By the end of the 40’s, The Golden Gate Quartet are famous, collaborating with other outstanding musicians such as: Benny Goodman, Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and many more. One of their admirers was the young Elvis Presley who later made a few ‘covers’ to their songs he loved.
These were The Golden Gate Quartet’s formative years.
Since the 50’s, they have done endless tours and concerts, in the most prestigious halls around the world, on all continents. They celebrated their fiftieth and sixtieth anniversaries in festive ways. All members were successful at their time and replaced by other talented singers, and they continue as a quartet till today.
You may not know, but today’s Quartet manager, Baritone singer, Paul Brembly, is the great – nephew of Orlandus Wilson, one of the four founders, of The Golden Gate Quartet. ‘The apple does not fall far from the tree’.
Now, we can enjoy some of their greatest songs:
Music in several ‘tempo’, mood, atmosphere and ‘color’.
The Golden Gate Quartet: ‘Silent Night’
The Golden Gate Quartet: ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’
The Golden Gate Quartet: ‘Rock My Soul’
I hope I have managed to convince you that The Golden Gate Quartet are really ‘Golden’ and unique.
They have, from the very beginning of their carrier, given music a beautiful, most harmonious sound and flavor. They did not attend music schools, but were super professional in ‘Gospel’, ‘Swing’ and ‘Spiritual’ music.
Their high quality of singing opened doors for them, and they, in return, opened many doors for their fellow- ‘Afro- Americans’ in the USA.
The Golden Gate Quartet’s ability to continue, all these years, keeping their high quality, vividness and vocal combination in spite of the numerous singers, is rare.
There are many ‘covers’ done with their songs, sang by the best musicians of the time.
The Golden Gate Quartet: ‘When the Saints Go Marching IN’
Louie Armstrong & Danny Kaye:
‘When the Saints Go Marching IN’
It is great to end a book with such a lovely humorous tone, with the knowledge that it is an endless journey finding all the beautiful music The Golden Gate Quartet gave us and the world.