The Golden Gate Quartet (aka The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet) is the most successful of all of the African-American gospel music groups who sang in the jubilee quartet style. Founded as the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet in Norfolk, Virginia in 1934 by Robert Ford, A.C. Griffin, Willie Johnson, William Langford, Henry Owens and Orlandus Wilson. They began as a traditional jubilee quartet, combining the clever arrangements associated with barbershop quartets with rhythms borrowed from the blues and jazz like scat singing.
The makeup of the group changed over the years, as some members were drafted during the war and new members were brought in to replace those who had retired or left to join other groups (one notable member was bass singer Cliff Givens, who was to leave The Gates in 1944 to join The Ink Spots upon the death of original bass Orville "Hoppy" Jones, and later joined Billy Ward and His Dominoes). William Langford joined the group when Griffin left in 1935 and Orlandus Wilson replaced Ford the same year. Clyde Riddick replaced Langford in 1938, Johnson left in 1948 to join "The Jubilaires" and Owens left the group later to become a preacher and solo artist. Riddick remained with the group until his retirement in 1995 and Wilson until his death in 1998.
The Gates had a broad repertoire of styles—from Owens' mournful, understated approach in songs such as Anyhow or Hush, Somebody's Calling My Name, to the group's highly syncopated arrangements in Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Like The Mills Brothers of popular music, they would often include vocal special effects in their songs, imitating train sounds in songs such as Golden Gate Gospel Train. Langford often sang lead, using his ability to range from baritone to falsetto, while Johnson narrated in a hip syncopated style that became the hallmark for the group. Wilson's bass served as the anchor for the group and Owens harmonized with Langford and Johnson.
They achieved regional fame through their radio program in Columbia, South Carolina in the 1930s. They became nationally popular after John Hammond presented them as part of the 1938 extravaganza From Spirituals to Swing in Carnegie Hall. In 1940, Langford left to form a new group, The Southern Sons, and Clyde Riddick took his place. They soon had a nationwide radio program, appearances at Café Society in 1940 and the opportunity to sing at Franklin Delano Roosevelt's inauguration in 1941, becoming the first black musical group to sing at Constitution Hall. They continued to be popular during World War Two, making several appearances in Hollywood films and singing secular music, including some unique popular front songs such as "Stalin Wasn't Stallin'" that mixed humor with political commentary.
The quartet lost their preeminent position in gospel music after the war, when they faced competition from the newer hard gospel quartets. They continued in their old style, offering sharper political commentary in songs such as God's Gonna Cut 'Em Down, but losing much of their audience to quartets such as the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Soul Stirrers. Johnson left for the Jubilaires in 1948, and Owens departed in 1950 to become a preacher.
The Golden Gates revived their career in 1955, however, when they toured Europe for the first time, where they became widely popular. The group moved to Paris in 1959 and has continued touring, primarily in Europe, since then. During his stint in the US Army, in Germany, Elvis Presley, who was a huge admirer of their work since his early childhood, visited them backstage at "Le Lido", in Paris, and stayed to watch their entire show, staying also with them at the hotel "Prince de Galles".
The Quartet appeared in films such as Star Spangled Rhythm (1942), Hit Parade of 1943 (1943), Hollywood Canteen (1944), and the Danny Kaye film A Song Is Born (1948). In the latter film, they performed the songs "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" and part of "A Song Is Born" with Louis Armstrong and Virginia Mayo. In addition, the group's music was also featured in the video game Battlefield Bad Company.
The Golden Gate Quartet was inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998.