Document's mini-history of the Utica Institute Jubilee Singers opens with six Black Swan recordings made in February 1922 by Harrod's Jubilee Singers, a refined and mannered religious quartet led by tenor Archie Harrod who also recorded as a solo comedian. Active since 1914, the group performed in an old-fashioned style associated with the 19th century Jubilee tradition. In addition to Harrod, the quartet heard a cappella on these rare sides consisted of soprano Ruth Mays, contralto Mathilde Walton, and basso John Woodward. As was Document's policy during the 1990s, damaged 78 rpm platters were employed without any noise reduction whatsoever. While most of the material is audible through the surface hiss, "Jacob's Ladder" and "Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho" are seriously flawed by recurrent waves of choppy turbulence that can only be called disruptive; apparently at some point in the past something corrosive was spilled across the surface of the record. This is a crying shame as the Harrod Jubilee recordings offer fascinating glimpses into a mode of presentation with its origins in the 1870s and earlier. One can only hope that at some point everything ever associated with Harrod will be reissued using technology to improve the overall sound and make the two badly maimed records actually listenable. The main body of work presented in this collection (tracks 7-24) consists of Victor recordings made during the years 1927-1929 by the Utica Institute Jubilee Singers, a fine vocal harmony group who handled sacred songs and worldly ditties like "Watermelon," "Honey," and "Chicken" with equal ease and exactitude. “Watermelon” is (to use the terminology of the 1890s) a “coon song” that was also recorded by Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers, a popular Georgia-based white fiddle band. Contextual comparison of the two versions is sure to yield thought-provoking insights. At their best, the Uticas are in league with the Norfolk Jazz & Jubilee Quartets, the Biddleville Quintette, Bryant's Jubilee Quartet, and Mitchell's Christian Singers. That assessment places them squarely among the very best African-American sacred/secular vocal groups of the pre-WWII period.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf