The History of the Golden Gate Quartet (selected data)
From 1934 to today, from the churches of Virginia to the most prestigious international stages, the story of THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET is that of more than 60 years of golden age spiritual. An exceptionally long life due to the permanence of a style where individualisms have always given way to the importance of the quartet.
Four students from Booker T. Washington college (Virginia), Willie Johnson (baritone), William Langford (tenor), Henry Owens (second tenor) and Orlandus Wilson (bass), united by the same passion for music, create a quartet, THE GOLDEN GATE JUBILEE SINGERS.
A name chosen long before San Francisco inaugurated a bridge of the same name...
Coming from very religious families, the four young men have participated from their childhood in the "junior choir" of their church and then the "glee clubs"... a musical style which they adapt and codify, harmonising in the mood of the day the scarce sentences of old traditional chants.
The "GATE'S STYLE" is thus born of the interpretation of texts reconstituting the atmosphere of the dramatic events lived by the black people.
From the beginning, the group sings in churches and on local radio, adopting certain of the vocal processes of the Mills Brothers such as the imitation of musical instruments by the voice. Whilst one cannot deny the influence of the Mills Brothers on the GOLDEN GATE JUBILEE SINGERS, some titles - such as the stunning "Massa's in the cold, cold ground" - show that, inspired by the style of their elders, they have already improved it by adding their own orginality: the setting of a lived experience to music and song.
In that year, a determinant period in the group's history, which Orlandus Wilson has not forgotten: "... as soon as we arrived in Columbia - capital of South Carolina - we asked the director of the local radio to sing live on his radio. Astounded by the offer from unknown singers, he however had faith in us. As soon as the news bulletin in progress ended, he gave us ten minutes to sing three or four titles. The audience's reaction was immediate. A lot of people rang asking for the name of the group. 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 chance offered by WIS rapidly develops the fame of THE GOLDEN GATE JUBJLEE SINGERS. There are more and more offers for concerts in churches, which at the same time strengthens the opposition of certain pastors to this style of interpretation, considered too excentric, too rhythmic, in spite of its religious character and its richness of sonorities.
Victor are looking for new talent for their Bluebird label and, on August l4th, the group records 14 titles in less than two hours... a musical achievement which deserves inclusion in the Book of Records!
This record and the following ones are such a success that the originality and talent of the group rapidly attract the attention of the celebrated jazz critic John Hammond, also the producer of a series of concerts: "Spirituals to swing". Charmed by the natural ease with which the music of THE GOLDEN GATE JUBJLEE SINGERS builds a bridge between traditional church concerts and swing, he invites the group to perform at Carnegie Hall on December 23rd 1938. Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Joe Turner, Sydney Bechet, etc... are all there to hear THE GOLDEN GATE JUBJLEE SINGERS interpret "Golden gate gospel train" and "I am on my way".
This success has a snowball effect and the very socialite Barney Josephson, director of Café Society programmes them, on the recommendation of John Hammond. With the first appearance of THE GOLDEN GATE JUBJLEE SINGERS on this New York stage, on December 27th 1938, the spiritual makes its entry into cabaret... a noted entry, which awakens the enthusiasm of this "in" public and immediately leads to an engagement offer from a director of CBS, for his firm Columbia Broadcasting.
RCA ask them to record a "Pop" session and without the group knowing it, wanted to call them "The four chocolate bars". Thankfully, good taste asserts itself.
In that same year, Clyde Riddick joins the group, at the age of 26, as a tenor and replaces William Langford, who died in 1970.
The quartet prompts a real enthusiasm from the American audience, sensitive to this 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 solist, 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 GOLDEN GATE QUARTET sometimes likes to add the interpretation of folk songs and popular music.
CBS suggested that they change the name of the group which then becomes THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET and makes a record, a 78 induding "Joshua fit the battle of Jericho", a title which remains to this day one of the peaks of their repertoire. This first big success, a myth today, is the first of many that have become equally famous: "Swing down chariot", "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen", "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child".
Successfully lending their support to the inauguration ceremonies of the president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The event is of major importance: for the first time a black group is "authorised" to sing in the "Constitution Hall", right in the bastion of southern racism. This happy precedent is followed by several performances by THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET at the "White House" among other artists were Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Mickey Rooney and Charlie Chaplin.
1941 is a prosperous year for the group. THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET:
- makes its first record with Columbia,
- undertakes its first tour outside the United States as personal guests of the Mexican government,
- makes its first movie in Hollywood for Paramount: "Star Spangled Rhythm".
The cinema career of THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET continues with the making of three movies in which the group play their own role: "Hit Parade", for Republic Studios, "Hollywood Canteen" and "Bring on the girls".
Despite the second world war, there are numerous radio broadcasts and stage appearances. Two members of the group - the baritone Willie Johnson in 1943 and Orlandus Wilson in 1944 - are mobilised in the Navy until 1946.
Clyde Riddick becomes the leader of a quartet which must adapt to the circumstances: Willie Johnson is replaced for a while by the baritone Joe Johnson who in turn created his own group: "The Trumpeteers". Alton Bradley takes his place until the end of the war. Clifford Givens - who was singing in the group "Southern Sons" created by the ex-member of the THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET, William Langford - replaces Orlandus Wilson. With the return of Willie Johnson and Orlandus Wilson, the group returns to its pre-war line-up.
In 1947, the group records "Shadrack", a title which, for more than fifty years, has been one of the top titles in their repertoire. In spring 1948, Willie Johnson (baritone and narrator), replaced by Orville Brooks, definitively leaves the group to become the leader of the "Jubalaires", a group formed in 1943.
With Dany Kay as the star, THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET makes "A song is born". Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Mel Powell and Louis Armstrong are also on the hill of this "fantastic production devoted to jazz" produced by Sam Goldwin.
In the same year, THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET enters Mercury, where, under the Mercury "Pop" label and the artistic direction of the famous Bobby Shad, the group makes two records. The major part of the following recordings will be edited in the series "8,000 Rhythm and blues".
These years are a mythical period for jazz music in general and for THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET in particular: the group works at PARAMOUNT THEATRE with Duke Ellington's band and each time the quartet performs in Nashville or Memphis, a teenager, guitar on his back, comes to listen to their concerts and to talk with them backstage. When he became famous some years later, Elvis Presley was to keep in tact his youthful passion for the style of THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET.
The second tenor Henry Owens, original member of the group, leaves to become a preacher and solo singer. He is replaced by Alton Bradley. Henry Owens died in 1970.
Alton Bradley is replaced by one of the members of the "Larks", Eugene Mumford. Rock 'n' Roll sweeps through America. Concerts are fewer for the moment. However, a new album comes out in 1952.
Years of changes and travel, this period is marked by the group's Canadian tours, new tours in the USA and a first engagement at the Paris Olympia (1955). A three week contract following which the group will go on a European tour every year.
Orville Brooks joins "The Valiants" and Eugene Mumford leaves THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET to give a new start to the "Larks". They are replaced respectively by Franck Todd and Clyde Wright who at 26 had just left the "Selah Jubilee Singers". Franck Todd is later replaced by Caleb Ginyard.
THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET completes a thirteen weeks tour in Sweden, before winning over in turn the English and Scottish audiences. Recordings follow one another at a fast rhythm, alternating with European galas. Their fame is growing all the time on the European continent.
The group's songs extolling peace and fraternity are greeted enthusiastically by the U.N. troups stationed in Gaza. They are no less successful in Scandinavia, where the group sings for the second time.
THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET's audience extends to the Orient and, thanks to A.N.T.A, the Agency for the American State Department Tours - which is sponsoring a vast cultural programme - the group goes on a six and a half month tour, organised in 28 different countries from Greece to Japan.
To fill a two year engagement, signed with the Casino de Paris, the group sets up in France. On leave in Paris, Elvis Presley comes to watch them in Line Renaud's review "Pleasure". Afterwards, as Americans together in Paris, they made a jam session in Line Renaud's dressing-room, until 6 in the morning with Loulou Gastes guitar. Neither recording nor photograph are left to remember this musical evening, only the memories left in one's heart.
A.N.A.A. for the American State department organises a new tour, thanks to which THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET visits 26 African countries in six months, before returning to Europe for its annual tour.
The international popularity of the group is now immense. An ever growing success probably due to the very personal style of the quartet who sings God's praises according to a style where the voices - for a long time solely "a capella" - are progressively accompanied by a guitarist, then a piano-bass-drums combination.
The group effects a major tour through France, Belgium, Israel, West Germany, the Principality of Monaco and visits Switzerland for the first time. They left to tour Japan for six months.
On the occasion of a Yougoslavian tour, THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET gives a concert in Belgrade for the victims of the Skopje earthquake. They also did a tour of France and Belgium with Jacques Brel.
Tours in Switzerland, Austria and West Germany go on. The French student public reserves a warm, spontaneous welcome for the group. 1965 is also the year of a short tour with Gilbert Bécaud.
Tours in Hungary, Spain, Israel and from now on they make a tour of Germany every year.
To support the campaign against hunger, the group records Gilbert Bécaud's song: "The miracle Boat". The tours go on, taking the group from the heat of North Africa to the polar Winters of Norway. First concerts in the Netherlands.
Back from a long African tour, the group stops in Paris to sing on the stage of the Palais des Sports with Jean Ferrat.
For the first time, THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET gives a concert of spirituals in the Austrian monastery of Melk. The group continues its international tours in France, Germany, Portugal, Iran, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand.
Owing to Caleb Ginyard and Clyde Wright leaving the group, THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET recruits two specialists in religious songs: Calvin Williams, member for many years of two renowned formations, the "Four Deep Tones" and the "High Liters" and the young Paul Brembly aged 21. Grand nephew of Orlandus Wilson, baritone member of church choirs and American religious groups, Paul takes his first steps as a "Golden Boy" on the occasion of a particularly successful vintage year for the group: alternating with the stages of world tours, the THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET devotes ten months to its promotion on television and to making records. A marathon programme which does not exclude rehearsals, nor the return to the source of their inspiration: the United States.
At the time when few artists had the opportunity to perform in East Germany, television devotes its Christmas show to THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET, thus enabling the group to establish itself even better in a Europe which is calling for it more and more.
On the occasion of one of the group's French tours, Orlandus Wilson meets Christian Chartier who twenty years later becomes exclusive producer of the group. During this period, the members of the quartet make a record a year and leave the international firm EMI for Ibach in 1979. Success takes the group to the four corners of the globe with, for the first time, a gala in the Caribbean and the homage of a song bearing the name of the group as its title: passionately keen on the voices and black rhythms, Michel Jonasz composes "Golden Gate"... the homage without concession of a singer to those who have been his models.
The recording of a double album "Jubilee", marks twenty five years of the group's presence in Europe. A real artistic miracle, no relation to their engagement in Lourdes the following year: on July 18th 1981, THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET performs in front of the 2,500 people inside the basilica. More than 20,000 who where unable to enter, follow the concert from the square in front of the basilica where it is broadcast.
This exceptional atmosphere, the audience singing and clapping their hands have remained in the memory of the group as one of the most moving and prestigious concerts in the quartet's long career.
In France, the Academy of Jazz awards the "Grand Prix Gospel Mahalia Jackson" to the Golden Gate Quartet. The profession's recognition of these artists who have always remained in the margin of traditional styles.
THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET is fifty years old. At the group's request, and in agreement with their French agent Albert Tavel, the Artistic Organisation Agency realises one of the most important concert tours ever organised, either in the field of jazz or light music. THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET leaves it to the audiences of the 200 towns scheduled to blow out the fifty candles of a remarkable career.
The vinyl records with cumbersome sleeves are finished. The best of THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET is recorded on a CD which rapidly becomes one of the top sellers in the field of traditional jazz.
Return of the "prodigal" tenor: abandoning a solo career to rejoin his musical family, Clyde Wright returns to the group. He replaces Calvin Williams, who joins another group in the United States.
Three years marked essentially by the release of new recordings on record, cassette and CD. The group participates in the festival of Bonifacio and sings on the Parisian stage of the "Espace Cardin".
A great year for THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET which carries out a tour in Europe and Africa. In Bordeaux, in front of more than 100,000 people, THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET and 200 singers give an exceptional concert to mark the only French stopover of the Cutty Sark. This show is repeated on tour with the participation of a choir of 50 to 200 members of the "Choeurs de France", under the direction of Jean-Claude Oudot.
Return to the "Casino de Paris" for a series of concerts.
THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET sings in the "Salle Pleyel", in Paris, and puts together a series of European tours.
An eventful year! THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET celebrates its sixtieth anniversary and Orlandus Wilson asks Christian Chartier (Artistic Organisation) to renew the performance of 1984, the year of the fiftieth anniversary.
As a prelude to this anniversary tour totalling over 180 concerts, the Midem pays homage to the four singers. The group is invited to many radio and television programmes, and the U.S.A. awards a trophy to these American ambassadors of the spiritual.
A record entitled "Happy Birthday Golden Gate" marks the event and sets in motion the international sixtieth anniversary tour. Starting in the "Salle Pleyel", in the prestigious setting of this concert hall, which has welcomed the greatest names in show business, this tour goes on around the world and in front of thousands who come to share the music and the joy of life of this legendary group.
A new blossoming for the group. Clyde Riddick quietly goes into retirement at the age of 82, his slender silhouette and his smile filled with goodness will remain one of the symbols of the quartet. Clyde Wright goes back to his solo career. Frank Davis et Charles West, two superb tenors immediately fill the places of their illustrious predecessors.
And the wonderful story continues on the 200 odd stages of the world which will welcome them from October 1995 to December 1997.
Three new CD's, their life story in book form and numerous broadcasts. A full programme for this legendary group, on its way to artistic eternity.
Orlandus Wilson, the creator of THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET, is dead. Again Clyde Wright joins the group.
THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET is headed by Clyde Wright and Paul Brembly who is now the leader of the group.
Thierry Francis (Bass) joins the group.
Richard Phillips (Bass) joins the group.
The members of the group are Paul Brembly (Baritone), Clyde Wright (2nd Tenor), Frank Davis (1st Tenor) and Anthony Gordon (Bass).