The Biddleville Quintette ought now to be recognized as one of the great east coast African American gospel units of the early 20th century. The group waxed 36 sides for Paramount and QRS between September 1926 and August 1929. Original copies of their 78 rpm records are prized by collectors impressed with the Quintette's passionate intensity and soulful delivery. These feature call and response sanctified singing and sermons peppered with emphatic shouts and hollers. The 1929 recordings include instances of shape-note singing and progressive congregational polyphony that make one wish they'd stayed together and kept cutting records to document the evolution of their style and technique for posterity. In an informational ellipsis worthy of a West African trickster deity, the Biddleville Quintette appeared to be posthumously impossible to pin down, and seemed for quite a while to defy researchers' attempts to assign them a geographical home base. It took latter-day musical historians a surprisingly long time to locate Biddleville, which is a neighborhood on the north side of Charlotte, N.C., adjacent to the campus of Johnson C. Smith College, formerly known as the Biddle Institute. While precious little information has been uncovered regarding the group, one contemporary recalled that the leader of this four-man-one-woman organization was a manual laborer named Adam Brown who resided in the Biddleville district. He and the Quintette did not record after 1929, but were still performing publicly in Charlotte during the '30s. All of the Biddleville Quintette's recordings have been reissued by the Document label.
Share this page