[Photo: Cover of the Birmingham Quartet scrapbook]

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Jefferson County Gospel Quartets
Recorded in Jefferson County, Alabama.
Premiered February 22, 1992, on All Things Considered.

Jefferson County, Alabama, a true crossroads of steel and song, is recognized as the birthplace and capital of a cappella gospel singing. This style of music emerged in the early 20th Century when a boom in the coal and steel industries led to a massive migration of African-American workers to Jefferson County. The workers were housed in segregated company towns and worked for meager wages. With little available recreation, they soon formed singing groups, and Jefferson County established its preeminence in the gospel world.

Although Jefferson County's reign as a gospel center came to an end long ago, two of the oldest gospel quartets still remain in Bessemer, Alabama: The Sterling Jubilees (started in 1929 at the Bessemer Pipe Plant) and The Four Eagle Gospel Singers (started in 1938 at the U.S. Steel Plant in Fairfield, Alabama). Narrator Joe Watson has been the lead singer of The Four Eagle Gospel Singers since 1946.

Producer: David Isay / Editor: Jude Doherty / Mix engineer: Caryl Wheeler / Special thanks to Doug Seroff.


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This piece is available in the following audio formats [25:17 min]:



An essay about the "Birmingham Sound" on the Alabama Folkways Web site

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