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Norfolk Jubilee Quartet

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The section of Virginia known as the Tidewater region seems to have possessed some kind of magic when it came to the creation of male gospel quartets, at least in the ’20s and ’30s. These early years of the American recording industry are continually impacted by the public’s realization that various genres of music might be entertaining to listen to at home, gospel among them. The Norfolk Jubilee Quartet were one of the Virginia groups that can be held responsible for these developments, releasing musical predictions such as the 1927 “You’re Gonna Need That Pure Religon” that sold well beyond any bean counter’s wildest expectations. “Standing by the Bedside of a Neighbor” was another of the group’s standout efforts, originally produced in 1932.

The recorded performances of this group have had a continuing if not surprising shelf life through reissues without listeners having to wait until the ’70s and the “two-fer” double-album craze to hear the sanctified sounds from Norfolk. As early as the mid-’40s, licensing deals were already being inked involving the quartet’s original Paramount sides. Gospel collections have subsequently rarely committed the mortal sin of omitting a Norfolk Jubilee Quartet side. The individuals who made up the group, loyal in membership but apparently rarely credited individually on releases, were not so fortunate in the pursuit of performance glory in real time. Growing tired of the gospel repertoire, the foursome reformed as a secular vocal group, the Four Alphabets, attracting the attention of impresario Cliff Martinez but inevitably not able to compete in the developing doo wop market.

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