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The Paschall Brothers

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The Paschall Brothers, founded in 1981 by the late Reverend Frank Paschall Sr., proudly carry on the Tidewater gospel quartet tradition. Washington, D.C., 2012, photograph by Alan Govenar
The Paschall Brothers, Washington, D.C., 2012, photograph by Alan Govenar
The Paschall Brothers receiving their award from NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman, 2012 National Heritage Fellowship Awards, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart
The Paschall Brothers performing at the 2012 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart
The Paschall Brothers performing at the 2012 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart

With grace and smooth harmonies, The Paschall Brothers proudly carry on the Tidewater gospel quartet tradition. Founded in 1981 by the late Reverend Frank Paschall Sr., an accomplished gospel singer and devoted father of eleven children, the group performs a classic gospel repertoire along with original compositions.

Reverend Frank Paschall Sr. trained five of his seven sons to accompany him in the earliest configuration of the group, which now includes several grandchildren. When Frank Sr. passed away in 1999, his son Tarrence assumed leadership of the group, but the lead vocal role is often passed around among members for different songs. The gospel quartet, as they are commonly known, typically includes five, not four, members -- "quartet" refers to the four-part harmony rather than the number of members.

The a cappella tradition in Virginia is rich and longstanding. Following the Civil War, the Tidewater, or Hampton Roads, area of Virginia -- including Hampton, Newport News and Norfolk -- became an important and lively center of African American culture. Four-part harmony groups were common, and performances took place everywhere from churches and street corners to competitions in which groups were judged on both vocal gymnastics and appearance.

The local gospel quartet tradition reached its peak in the first half of the twentieth century but has largely dwindled since, with the exception of The Paschall Brothers, who carry the tradition forward. The family members do their part to maintain the unique regional style by training their children in the Tidewater tradition and working with the Virginia folklife apprenticeship program.

In a testament to their timeless artistry and influence, the group has gained an increased national following after a breakout performance at the Lowell Folk Festival in 2003. The Paschall Brothers have since taken the stage at the Kennedy Center and Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The group released the album On the Right Road Now in 2007 under the Smithsonian Folkways record label, co-produced by the Virginia Folklife Program. Featuring both original music composed by Frank Paschall Sr. and innovative arrangements of music from groups like the Golden Gate Quartet and Dixie Hummingbirds, the album received the Best Gospel Album award at the 2008 Independent Music Awards and the 2009 Independent Music Award Gospel Album of the Year.

Daniel Sheehy, director and curator at the Smithsonian Folkways program and former NEA director of Folk and Traditional Arts wrote in a recommendation letter, "Their multi-generational membership, their creativity, and their positive energy breathe new life into the old sounds. The Paschall Brothers are strong, devoted performers and are deeply representative of the Tidewater a cappella quartet tradition."

Discography
The Paschall Brothers. On the Right Road Now. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2007.

Watch

The Paschall Brothers interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2012 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

The Paschall Brothers interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2012 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


The Paschall Brothers performing at the 2012 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

The Paschall Brothers performing at the 2012 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


The Paschall Brothers performing at the 2012 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

The Paschall Brothers improvising, Washington, D.C., 2012, recorded by Alan Govenar

Tarrence Paschall Sr. answers the question 'Could you talk about the history of your group?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Tarrence Paschall Sr. answers the question 'Where did you grow up?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Tarrence Paschall Sr. answers the question 'What was it like in your household growing up?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Tarrence Paschall Sr. answers the question 'How did you get started singing?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Tarrence Paschall Sr. answers the question 'What part do you sing?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Renard Freeman Sr. answers the question 'How did you learn to sing quartet style?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Renard Freeman Sr. answers the question 'How would this tryout on a street corner work?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Renard Freeman Sr. answers the question 'How do you do your own arrangements?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Renard Freeman Sr. talks about their song selection, Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Johnny Lewis answers the question "How did you get started singing?" Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Johnny Lewis talks about his original family group, The Lewis Brothers, Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Johnny Lewis answers the question "What is this region that people call the Tidewater?" Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Johnny Lewis answers the question "Why did quartet singing flourish in this region?" Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Johnny Lewis answers the question "Does this street corner music still exist?" Washington, D.C., 2012, Interview by Alan Govenar

Johnny Lewis answers the question "How does quartet singing fit into today's music?" Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Renard Freeman Jr. answers the question 'How did you get started singing?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar

Renard Freeman Jr. answers the question 'What's the appeal of quartet singing for you?' Washington, D.C., 2012, Interview by Alan Govenar

Renard Freeman Jr. answers the question 'What parts do you sing?' Washington, D.C., 2012, interview by Alan Govenar