September 17, 2015

The history of Jefferson County’s black gospel quartets

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gospel lectureThe University of Alabama at Birmingham African-American Studies Program and College of Arts and Sciences Department of Music instructor Kevin P. Turner will present a lecture by George W. Stewart on “The Jefferson County Sound: Birmingham and Bessemer, Alabama, Home of the Black Gospel Quartet.”

The lecture will take place from 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, in Room 154 of the UAB Business and Engineering Complex, 1150 10th Ave. South. Seating is limited.

Stewart will discuss the music and history of the black gospel quartet and its influence on other genres. He is president and CEO of the American Gospel Quartet Convention. Stewart helped filmmaker and Birmingham native Robert Clem find sources for “The Jefferson County Sound,” an hourlong documentary which aired on Alabama Public Television in 2012. Stewart is interviewed in the movie.

Turner developed and is teaching a new course for African-American Studies titled History and Tradition of Gospel Music. The purposes of this course are to broaden the knowledge of American gospel music history and to identify the valuable contributions of this genre by studying its eras and major contributors.

Just as classical music has its major periods, Turner says, American gospel music includes major eras: The Slavery Era 1619-1860s; Pre-Gospel: Spirituals and Jubilee 1700s-1900s; The Golden Age: 1900s-1968; The Civil Rights Era/Freedom Songs 1950s-1970s; The Contemporary/Cross Over 1968-1995; and the Praise and Worship Era, 1995 to present.

Gospel quartet music, which came out of the cotton fields, steel mills, coal mines and churches, became popular in the early 20th century. The Jefferson County Sound was distinctive, and the area gave rise to many black gospel quartets, including the Fairfield Four, Delta-Aires, Blind Boys of Alabama, Four Eagles and the Birmingham Sunlights.

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