The Library of Virginia

Before Recordings

New Technology

Early Field Recordings

Early Commercial Recording Sessions

Over the Airwaves

Creating Traditional Culture

The Interplay of Musical Styles

"Old Times Tunes" in Southwest Virginia

The Family Band

Mill to Microphone

Piedmont Blues


The African American vocal quartet-four black males singing religious songs in a lead-tenor-baritone-bass harmony arrangement without instrumental accompaniment-is one of the great musical traditions in Virginia music and had strong roots in the Tidewater region. Quartets, such as the Hampton Institute Quartette, drew on the spirituals and other sacred songs prevalent in the era of slavery. Local groups often performed in a church setting, and early quartets usually delivered their songs in a restrained, slow-meter style with great power. Social and commercial influences began to affect some of the groups' style and material in the 1920s and '30s. Gospel-style music brought to prominence new musical material that centered on upbeat, pop-oriented ensemble arrangements and lyrics of personal salvation. A market for secular performances also existed among the record-buying public, and religious quartets lucky enough to enter the studio were sometimes pressured to record secular songs by companies seeking to get the most sales from their talent. Other groups actively toured with traveling shows and on vaudeville circuits, performing secular material influenced by ragtime and jazz. Many groups used different names when recording religious and secular material-the Norfolk Jazz Quartet performed upbeat, popular songs but called themselves the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet when recording sacred material. Other prominent Virginia groups included the Golden Gate Quartet and the Golden Crown Quartet.

Daniel Holmes
About 1941 Daniel Holmes, second tenor with the Golden Crown Quartet, related his life story to WPA workers. 
Library of Virginia

All Recordings


Golden Crown Quartet, "The Sign of Judgement" (Okeh 8739), recorded in Richmond, Virginia, October 13, 1929. Re-issued on Virginia Roots: the 1929 Richmond Sessions (Outhouse Records 1001).