Artison and Artison: African-American Gospel Music

Memphis native Willie Earl Artison has proudly carried the torch for the African American gospel-quartet tradition for several decades. Black gospel quartets are defined by the use of four to six vocalists singing four-part harmony arrangements with or without accompaniment.  The roots of the tradition are in Tennesssee with Fisk University’s Jubilee Singers, male and female vocal ensembles that travelled the country performing spirituals to raise money for the university in the late 19th and early 20th century. The African American sacred quartet tradition evolved over the years, eventually incorporating the vocal performance and instrumental accompaniment styles of contemporary gospel music.

Influenced by Memphis-area groups such as the Gabrielairs and the Dixie Wonders as well as a musical older brother, Willie Artison began performing African American gospel quartet music in the late 1970s. A talented keyboard player, vocalist, and producer, Artison performed with the Sensational Southern Nightingales gospel group in 1980s and 1990s. In 1986, he founded Sacred Love Records which has released several notable gospel recordings over the years. He also manages, produces and performs with the Bell Singers, a Memphis-based family-based gospel ensemble with a legacy that stretches back 40 years.

Apprentice Kenneth Artison is Willie’s nephew and an exceptional young singer and drummer. He is currently a student at the Stax Music Academy and performs in gospel-oriented groups. He is seeking to anchor his music more fully in the bedrock traditions of his family and of the Memphis gospel legacy.