As the smokestacks rose into the sky and Jones Valley became a vast industrial corridor, the future Jefferson County transformed into a series of landscapes to include mines, mills, towns, cities, transportation routes, neighborhoods, and commercial districts all linked to the rapidly growing empire of iron and steel. Within these landscapes were communities developed by people who moved to the area and brought with them, their traditions, skills, knowledge, aspirations, beliefs, and values.
Musical traditions that took root in these communities evolved, merging both past and present forms to become something unique to the heritage of Jefferson County. In churches, schools, community centers, dance halls, homes, and parks, music abounded and a variety of genres flourished in African American neighborhoods, established during the era of segregation. One of those traditions is that of the black gospel quartet. From its foundation in Jefferson County, this a cappella style of singing grew to have a national and international reputation and profound influence on American music and culture.
Many folklorists, researchers, scholars, and filmmakers, drawn to the black gospel quartet tradition, have made contributions to the study, documentation, and preservation of this art form. The products of this research provide educational tools to inform current and future generations about the legacy and culture of quartet singing and you will find links to some of this information on the "Research" page.
The singers themselves have maintained this tradition through a community-based system of teaching and training and by hosting reunion and anniversary events every year. Please visit the "Calendar" for the current schedule.
DOT AND THE SILVER VOICES
Dot and the Silver Voices are a Birmingham-based quartet made up of women raised in different parts of Alabama who began their joint work in 1968. They meet at Bethel Baptist Church, Pratt City, where Rev. Smith is the pastor. Lead singer, Dorothy Henderson harmonizes with members Maxine Howard, Emma Lucas, and Pearl Smith.
THE FOUR EAGLES
Organized in 1938 by Reverend J. Wilson, this group will retire in 2017. From 1938 to 2017, members of the group included singers L.T. Smoot, John Lawrence, Dell Coleman, Elorgia Coleman, Joe Watson, Freeman Farris, Sam Bell, John B. Pettie, Joe Watson, Mack Williams, and Henry BurtonComposed of U.S. Steel employees from Jefferson County, the group is the oldest of this living tradition in Alabama. They produce some great a cappella music and continue to be dedicated to a very traditional style of singing.
THE PILLARS OF BIRMINGHAM
The Pillars of Birmingham are a quartet made up of singers from other groups, who sang in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Many of these singers had programs on WJLD Radio in Birmingham. Together since 2005, they’ve performed at many local churches, community events, festivals, Alys Stephens Center, and the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center. They are a training group for younger aspiring gospel quartet singers. Members include Henry Burton, Bob Friedman, Rev. Don Solomon, Sam Wilkerson, Vincent Witt, and Norman B Wooding, Jr. The Pillars are participants in the Alabama State Council on the Arts Folk Arts Apprenticeship program.
THE GOLDEN HUMMINGBIRDS
Led by an original member, Ennis Bragg, this group brings a soft musical background to their vocal presentation. Back in 1955, the group formed in Birmingham, Alabama and, like many groups, continued to evolve by adding new members as needed. Their current members include Ennis Bragg, Stan Green, Robert Jackson, Bobby Randle, George Spivey, Willie Tate, Charles Tucker, and Rev. Dennis Turk.
The Golden Hummingbirds and The Pillars (below) have performed at the annual Function at Tuxedo Junction Festival in the Enlsey Community of Birmingham, Alabama.
THE DELTA AIRES
The Delta Aires are all from the Birmingham and Bessemer area. This well-known group formed in Bessemer, Alabama in 1948. Members include Willie Beaver, Green Day, Charlie Dupree, Auguster Maul, Alfred Rutledge, and Henry Powell.
A member of one of the oldest groups from Jefferson County, Auguster Maul grew up in a family of singers. Around the year 1950, he moved to Ensley, where he began performing with gospel quartets. Over the years, he has been a member of the Golden Gates, Friendly Four, Four Eagles, and the Delta Aires.