When R.C. Foster came to Bessemer from Lowndes County in 1915 there were no black vocal quartets active in Bessemer. To Mr. Foster belongs the distinction of establishing what seems to have been the first spiritual quartet in Jefferson County, the Foster Singers.

This group, organized and trained by R.C. Foster, was the first black quartet active in Bessemer. Mr. Foster had received instruction in quartet singing while attending high school in Lowndes County, from Prof. Vernon W. Barnett, a Tuskegee graduate who had learned quartet singing there. Foster began to organize his own quartet when he came to Bessemer in 1915, but their progress was interrupted when he was called to service during World War I, and the group didn't really get rolling until his return in 1919.

Members of the original Foster Singers were R.C. Foster, tenor; Norman McQueen, lead; Fletcher Fisher, baritone; and Golius Grant, bass. These men were employed at Woodwards Old Mine and Mr. Foster credits Mr. Rick Woodward, the owner of the mine, with the early encouragement that kept the group going. Throughout their period of activity the Foster Singers were content to sing for the pure enjoyment of singing and never demanded a fee when they performed at churches and other gatherings.

The Foster Singers were unique in Jefferson County in that their approach was based on the older style of spiritual singing popularized by the university trained quartets at Tuskegee, Fisk and Hampton Institute. This style concentrated on evenness of all four voices throughout and, unlike the gospel singing styles that followed, the singers made no overt emotional play for the audience.

In later years, as the original members died off, R.C. Foster organized a second group of Foster Singers, which included Garrett Polk, lead; Elmore Waters, baritone; and Willie Hood, bass. This quartet continued to sing until the 1950s.

Birmingham Quartet ScrapBook: A Quartet Reunion in Jefferson County
October 12, 1980
Doug Seroff - Project Director

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame



R. C. Foster (born 1899 in Lowndes County ) was influential in bringing the "university style" of jubilee gospel quartet singing to the Birmingham District where it flourished and inspired generations of gospel singers.

Foster learned the style from Vernon W. Barnett, a Tuskegee Institute graduate who taught music at Lowndes County High School. He moved to Bessemer in 1915 to work at the Woodward Mine. He sang along with some of his fellow miners informally at first during lunch breaks and in the evenings. The group's progress was interrupted by World War I, but it was reconstituted in 1919 when the men returned home from the service.

Encouraged by mine owner Rick Woodward, Foster put together a more formal quartet, which he named the "Foster Singers". They began appearing at church services and various community events, spreading the new sound through the Bessemer area and inspiring a generation of gospel groups. Foster's college-influenced style was more formal and restrained than some of the other popular quartets of the time, but the group's musicianship and polish greatly influenced later groups.

Foster, a deacon at New Zion Baptist Church, suffered hearing impairment after a fall in 1979 and stopped performing.


Seroff, Doug (1980) Album liner notes for the Birmingham Quartet Anthology: Jefferson County, Alabama (1926-1953). Stockholm, Sweden: Clanka Lanka Records. CL144.001-2

Boyer, Horace Clarence (1995) "The Emergence of the Jubilee Quartet: The Jefferson County School," pp. 29-33 in How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel. Montgomery: Black Belt Press. ISBN 1880216191

Source: http://www.bhamwiki.com/w/R._C._Foster

More info at: www.newworldrecords.org/liner_notes/80513.pdf


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