We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with The Chosen Few, a Virginia gospel group that stands firmly in the great tradition of unaccompanied religious singing by African American residents of the Tidewater region of the mid-Atlantic states. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!
Although only a handful of African American a cappella quartets sing in Virginia today, Black four-part harmony groups were singing in Virginia at least as early as the mid-1800s, and the Tidewater region alone produced more than two hundred such groups in the century following the Civil War. The “modern” quartets were born in the late 1920s and early 1930s with the emergence of such groups as the Heavenly Gospel Singers, the Blevins Quartet, and most notably, the Golden Gate Quartet of Norfolk. Norfolk quickly became known as the “home of the quartet.”
Based in Newport News, the Chosen Few is rooted in this tradition, and was founded by Cornelius Smith and Bobby Hopson in 2012. The group is comprised of members from various churches across the Hampton Roads region. Together they received the 2015 and 2017 VEER Magazine awards for best gospel group. The Chosen Few also features Reverend Tarrence Paschall, longtime leader of the legendary Paschall Brothers of Chesapeake, who in 2012 received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor the United States bestows on traditional artists.
By now, I’ll bet you’re ready to see the concert. Watch it in the player below!
In the interview, Pat Jarrett of the Virginia Folklife Program spoke with Rev. Tarrence Paschall. They talked about Paschall’s family history, his award-winning band The Paschall Brothers, and his training as a singer. He explained that the word “quartet” in his community referred not to the number of singers but the number of parts–any number of people singing in 4-part harmony is considered a quartet. He talked about the techniques of harmony singing, and the profound effect a cappella singing can have on listeners. He discussed the history of The Chosen Few and how he came to sing with them. He also told some great stories about his musical activities as a young man. Find it all in the player below!
After the premiere, you’ll be able to find both these videos with more bibliographic information at this link on the Library of Congress website. You’ll also find them on the Library of Congress YouTube Channel.
If you enjoyed the concert and interview, check out the Collection Connections below. You’ll find links to archival collections, guides, and other materials related to gospel music from the Tidewater region.
The Legendary Ingramettes, another award-winning Virginia gospel group with roots in the Tidewater tradition, performed in the Homegrown series.
The Northern Neck Chantey Singers sang work songs of the menhaden fishery, which share stylistic elements of Tidewater gospel, since many of the same people sang chanteys while fishing and gospel in church.
Field Collections Online
You can find gospel music and singing in the following AFC online collections and presentations:
Folklife Today Blogs
Folklife Today Podcasts
Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For several years, we’ve been presenting the concerts here on the blog with related interviews and links, in the series Homegrown Plus. (Find the whole series here!) For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.