Maryland Traditions Folklife Area
The Sensational Royal Lights
photo courtesy of artist
For over sixty years, the Sensational Royal Lights have traveled throughout Delmarva to deliver their music ministry through quartet-style gospel music. The group originated in Cordtown, a small community located near Cambridge, Maryland, when the late Howard and Rena Elliott brought their sons together to form a gospel quartet. They took their name from another quartet, the Royal Lights, that Howard had belonged to years earlier.
The roots of gospel quartets reach back to the “jubilee” gospel choirs that emerged in the 1870s at African American colleges like Fisk University. Early jubilee “quartets” were noted for their close, four-part harmonies and formal arrangements of spirituals. In the early 20th century, gospel quartets embraced a more expressive style, reflecting the spirit-filled services of the Holiness church. Many, including the Sensational Royal Lights, have also added musical accompaniment—most notably, a hard-driving rhythm section—while continuing the vocal traditions from the “golden age” of jubilee quartets in the 1930s and ’40s.
The original Sensational Royal Lights consisted of brothers Arthur, Palestine, and Frederick. Older brother Robert and nephew Tyrome soon joined, followed several years later by their brother Leroy and nephews Everett Young and Terrence Jenkins. They performed across Delmarva, and statewide, including the 1977 Maryland Folklife Festival.
Founding members Tyrome and Frederick lead the group today, performing alongside many relatives, including newest members, their nephew Earl Slacum and Tyrome’s son, Ryan Elliott. The Sensational Royal Lights play a vital role in their Eastern Shore community, helping others through frequent benefit concerts.