By 1957, female groups were not uncommon, but no
other before them created the impact that the Chantels did. In fact, there
were many pop styled white female groups continuously placing records on the
charts, i.e. the Fontaine and Maguire Sisters and the Chordettes. Although
Shirley Gunther and the Queens (a black group) had an R&B hit in 1954 with
"Oop Shoop", the Chantels were the first black female group to
capture the white listening audience.
The original Chantels came out of a choir at St.
Anthony of Padua school in the Bronx: Arlene Smith, soprano lead; Lois Harris,
top soprano; Rene Minus, lower Alto/base; Sonia Goring, second soprano; and
Jackie Landry, second alto. All five girls had sung together since the second
The name Chantels were derived from a neighboring
school, St. Francis de Chantelle, as one of the girls thought that the word
chantelle would make a unique name for their group. The girls all agreed after
Lois Harris, who was taking French, pointed out that chantelle sounded like
the word chateau, meaning singer. 1956 saw this young teenage female group,
the Chantelles on the threshold of a promising career. By the time of their 1st
recording session, the spelling of their name was slightly altered to Chantels.
It was in early 1957 when Richard Barrett entered the
picture. Barrett with the Valentines had been relatively successful recording
for George Goldner's RAMA label and had recently produced the Teenagers. After
a couple of promises, Barrett met the girls at a rehearsal at Arlene Smith's
house at 163rd St. and Prospect. Seeing promise, he worked out arrangements
for two songs, "He's Gone" and "The Plea". These two songs
became their first single and Barrett convinced George Goldner to record them
on his newly formed END label.
The Chantels' second recording session produced their
biggest hit "Maybe". Most of their sessions took place at Bell Sound
Studios in Manhattan, but the "Maybe session" was recorded in a
converted Catholic church in Midtown Manhattan, chosen for its substantial
By the spring of 1959, Lois Harris dropped out of the
group to finish college and Arlene Smith left as well to pursue a solo career.
Richard Barrett replaced her with Annette Smith and recorded them as the
Veneers for the Princeton record label as well as using them to back up
himself on a few releases for END and GONE. The quartet with Annette Smith on
lead had a hit in 1962 with "Look In My Eyes" for the Carlton label.
By late 1962, the Chantels had a new lead singer, Sandra Dawn. Her most
notable lead and a collector's favorite was "Eternaly", recorded in
January of 1963 for the LUDIX record label. During this time, Arlene Smith was
very active in her solo career with numerous recordings for the BIG TOP, END,
and SPECTORIOUS labels.
Lois (Harris) Powell is now a Clinical Nurse
Specialist and Director o Connections Program at Whiteplain's High School, NY.
Sonia (Goring) Wilson i now teaching Special Education in Florida. Rene
(Minus) White is a fashion & beaut) editor/writcr for the NY Amsterdam News.
She also ublishes a magazine for inter national women of color entitled "A
Time To Style", and runs a "charm" school fo teenagers.
We at UGHA are proud tonight to Reunite the original
Chantels as wel as pay tribute to them as they enter our Hall of Fame as the
first female group to do so.
saddened to report that Jackie Landry Jackson passed away in 1997.
When you mention the name Five Satins, "In The
Still Of The Night" instantly comes to mind. This 1956 monster hit
through the years has seemed to become the measure of the 1950's group sound.
It all started in New Haven, CT Hillside High School,
late 1953, with Fred Parris along witha few of his schoolmates. Fred's
favorite color had always been red thus the "Scarlets" emerged as
his first group. A trip from New Haven to NYC in 1954 materialized a recording
contract with Bobby Robinson's RED ROBIN record label. 1954 and 1955 brought 4
record releases on RED ROBIN by the Scarlets, all from the pen of Parris. The
most notable was the much collected “Dear One”.
Late 1955, numerous personnel changes brought a name
change also. Governed by his passion for the color red, Parris dubbed his
group the Five Satins. A local New Haven label, STANDORD, owned by Marty
Kugell, gets claim as the first to record the Five Satins. At the VFW hall on
heavily traveled Congress Ave., if New Haven, "All Mine" was
recorded in early 1956. Although the band nevei showed up and "All
Mine" turned out, not by design, an acappella recording, if you listen
closely you can hear a truck driving by. The group's second recording for
Kugell on Feb. 26, 1956, in the basement of St. Bernadette's church in East
Haven, made rock & roll history. An original pressing of "I'll
Remember" ("In The Still Of The Night:") on STANDORD, can now
demand from a frenzied collector, up to $1,000.
The Spring of 1956 brought a label change to the Five
Satins and "In The Still Of The Night", the master, was bought by Al
Silver's EMBER label. It enjoyed a 24 week run on Billboard's National Pop
Charts during the summer and fall of 1956. The Satins second release for EMBER
in 1956, "Wonderful Girl", established the group as a rock &
roll mainstay for many years. After the group's third release, "Oh Happy
Day", Fred Parris, who had previously joined the army, departed for
Japan. After an attempt to try to switch the lead chores to an original member
failed, the group turned to a young local talent by the name of Bill Baker.
Bill Baker's tenure as lead singer of the Five Satins
was very successful. Bell Sound Studios in NYC, May 20, 1957, produced the
Satins second biggest hit. "To The Aisle" reached #25 on Billboard's
National Pop Charts, enjoying a 17 week run starting in August of 1957. The
group's next release with Bill Baker on lead, "Our Anniversary",
became their 3rd most popular and best selling release. It was during Nov. of
1957 that the Five Satins classic album, "The Five Satins Sing" was
issued. After "A Million To One" was recorded With Baker in late
1957, Fred Parris returned from service and reclaimed his position as lead
singer of the Five Satins.
While Parris and the Satins kept recording for EMBER,
"A Night To Remember, "Shadows", I'll Be Seeing You" and
others during the late 50's, Baker turned to another local New Haven group,
the Chestnuts. If my sources are correct, Fred Parris and Bill Baker never
Fred Parris continued with the Five Satins through the
60's enjoying the success of his now million selling composition, "In The
Still Of The Night". Being a prolific writer, Parris recorded for many
labels during the 60's and 70's with his emphatic voiced ballads. Some of
these renowned recordings can be found on the CUB, CHANCELLOR, RCA, WARNER
BROS., KIRSHNER and ATCO labels. Some even credit various names: the
Wildwoods, Restless Hearts, and Black Satin among them. Today Fred Parris
continues entertaining with his Satins group as one of the top acts in the
"oldies" circuit, enjoying a faithful dedicated 1950's fans
following. His nostalgic "In The Still Of The Night", heard
countless times on radio, jukeboxes, and in movies has become the #1 standard
of its prototype.
Bill Baker also had a prolific recording career in
the 60's and 70's with many of his own compositions with the Chestnuts, Dell-Satins,
Bleeding Hearts, and Bill Baker Satins. Other on labels including VIM, AUDICON,
ELGIN, CORAL, MUSIC NOTE, and CLIFTON, are included in his recording credits.
Before his untimely death in August of 1994, Baker was entertaining and also
enjoying his faithful dedicated following as Bill Baker's New Era.
Tonight we honor, as UGHA Hall Of Fame inductees, the
surviving members of the Five Satins: Fred Parris, Jim Freeman, Eddy Martin,
Jessie Murphy, and Sylvester Hopkins as well as the beloved, departed, Bill
Andrews and The Hearts
When reminiscing about the great R&B vocal group
ballads of the 1950's, it's hard to imagine what the music era would have been
without songs like "Lonely Nights", "Teardrops" and
"Try The Impossible". These songs, and countless others, were all
given to us by a great quintet from Philadelphia - Lee Andrews and the
Coming from a city known for vocal harmony, the
Hearts had it all: a lead singer with an exceptional voice, great harmony,
self confidence, polished stage presence and great material! As a group, the
Hearts began singing in 1952 on the street comers of their southwest
Philadelphia neighborhood. At lead was North carolina born, Arthur Lee Andrew
Thompson, soon to be known to the world as Lee Andrews. The other original
members included Roy Calhoun (first tenor), Thomas "Butch" Curry
(second tenor), Jimmy McCalister (baritone) and John Young (bass). First
calling themselves the Dreamers, the teenage group later changed its name to
The Hearts auditioned for local dee jay, Kae Williams
in 1954. Williams liked the group and decided to manage and record them. After
adding Kenny Lowe as pianist, the Hearts made several recordings which Kae
]eased to Rainbow records. None of the Hearts'early recordings ("Maybe
You'll Be There", "White Cliffs Of Dovcr", "Bells of St.
Mary", "The Fairest") sold very well, though they are all
magnificent examples of early Philly R&B harmony, and much sought after by
recording collectors today. By 1956, the Hearts had severed their relationship
with Kae Williams and signed with Gotham records.
In the meantime, Jimmy McCalister had left to join
the Navy. He was replaced by another southwest Philly teenager, Ted Weems.
Gerald Thompson replaced Kenny Lowe on piano. The Hearts had three releases an
Gotham ("Bluebird of Happiness", "Lonely Room" and
"Just Suppose"). Numerous other unreleased sides from the Gotham
sessions have since surfaced and each is a masterpiece. In fact, while at
Gotham, the Hearts actually recorded (though they were not released) several
songs that would later bring the group fame, including "Long Lonely
Nights", "Why Do I" and "Try The Impossible".
Following the Gotham sides, John Young left the group, being replaced as bass
by Roy's brother, Wendell Calhoun.
When the Hearts' Gotham recordings failed to achieve
more than regional success, the group auditioned for disc jockey Jocko
Henderson. Jocko was simultaneously doing radio shows in Philadelphia and New
York and was partners with Barry Golder in a record distributing company
called Mainline. Mainline soon became a record label, recording Lee Andrews
and the Hearts. Golder and Henderson
(G&H) produced the Hearts' biggest hits shopping
them out to larger labels I Chess and United Artists for national distribution.
From the first time they san on American Bandstand, "Long Lonely
Nights" was a hit. This was followed "Teardrops", "Try The
Impossible" and "Why Do F. During much of 1957 E 1958, the Hearts
toured the country. During this time they appeared wiht st R&B greats as
Frankie Lymon, Jimmy Reed, Jackie Wilson, the Harptones, the El Doradoes, LaVern
Baker, Fats Domino and Bo Diddley.
Late in 1958, at the peak of the Hearts' career, the
face of American popular music began changing. The rich vocal harmonies of the
fifties were gradually I ing overpowered by lush orchestration. The trend was
not lost on the Hearts producers who began adding more instrumentation and
dubbing choruses to the Heal United Artists recordings. Changes were also in the
works for the Hearts. Ted Weems left the group to join the service and Lee
Andrews went solo.
The Hearts, without Lee Andrews, found Eddie Custis
(from the Superiors) to replace Ted Weems. On lead they used long time
friend, Tommy White al then Sonny Gordon from the Angels. This group went on to
record for Arcade Chancellor and Guyden labels. Lee recorded "A Wise Man
Said" for Jordan before forming a new Hearts group to record for Swan
records in 1961. The Swan grot included Robert Howard, Sandra Mingo, and two
members of Lee's current Heal group, Richard Booker and Richard Mason.
In 1962, the original Hearts reunited for one record.
"Together Again" (Gowen Records) was a Roy Calhoun composition,
written as an answer to "Teardrops. The record contained the voices
of Lee Andrews, Butch Curry, Roy Calhoun: Wendell Calhoun and Eddie Curtis. It
was the last for the original Hearts.
Lee Andrews continued recording for a number of
labels (Parkway, VIP, RCA Victor, Crimson and Lost Nite), with and without a
Hearts group that at various times included Richard Mason, Richard Booker,
Victoria McCalister, Tommy Whit and Richard Howard. In the early 1970's, Lee
formed the group Congress Alle and recorded for AVCO. Congress Alley included
Lee, his wife Jackie, Richard Booker and Karen Brisco. During the 1980's Lee
reformed the Hearts, consisting of himself, his wife Jackie, his daughter Donna
and his son Ahmir. More recently Lee has been singing with Richard Booker
and Richard Mason.
Roy Calhoun was killed in a tragic apartment fire in
1979 and Gerald Thomson died in 1980. After singing with the Pheasants (Throne
label) in the 1960'~ Ted Weems today performs with the group Tribute. Wendell
Calhoun and Butch Curry still reside in the Philadelphia area. Tonight we are
honored to induct Lee Andrews and the Hearts into UGHA's Hall of Fame.
Leach and The Mellows
With tonight's awards ceremony, UGHA's Hall of Fame
inducts its first female led, male backed vocal group, the Mellows. Known
for their silky smooth song stylings and polished harmonies, the Mellows short
but, distinguished recording career is more than enough to earn them a spot in
the Hall of Fame, Songs like "Smoke From Your Cigarette", "How
Sentimental Can I Be" and "Yesterday's Memories" will always be
considered classics in the 1950's R&B field.
The Mellows hail from the Morrisania section of the
Bronx, an area rich in vocal group tradition. While the Bronx produced such
future Hall of Fame group; the Crickets, Chords and Wrens, a group like
the Mellows would stand out anywhere. Formed by chance encounter in a halfway in
1954, the Mellows featured 17 year old Lillian Leech on lead. Second tenor
Harold Johnson wrote and arranged many of the group's songs. Harold had
previously sang with Dean Barlow & the Crickets. John Wilson (first tenor)
and Norman Brown rounded out the original group.
Through Harold Johnson's persistence, the group
signed with JAY DEE records in 1954. Their first release for the Joe Davis owned
label was the beautiful ballad, "How Sentimental Can I Be". While
sales of the record were disappointing, the side did draw attention to the
group. They began playing clubs in Harlem and preparing for their next release.
"Smoke From Your Cigarette" broke big for
the group in early 1955. The Harold Johnson composition was an cast coast hit
and is still popular today. Ironically, the Mellows never cashed in on the
song's popularity by touring. In fact, the group made relatively few
The Mellows followed "Smoke..." with two
more releases in 1955. "1 Still Care" was written by Harold Johnson.
Both are haunting ballads, considered classics today.
By 1956, the Mellows had undergone some changes.
Norman Brown left the group, being replaced by legendary bass, Arthur Crier.
Crier previously sang with the Chimes on the BETTA and ROYAL ROOST labels. He
brought with him baritone Gary Morrison, also a veteran of the Chimes. This new
Mellows lineup quickly signed with CELESTE records where they released
"Lucky Guy", My Darling It, "I'm Yours" and "Sweet
Lorraine". Like the JAY DEE recordings, all the CELESTE sides are
masterpieces. In fact, even a Mellows practice tape, recorded in 1956 was
considered good enough to be issue in LP form by RELIC records, seventeen years
After recording two more sides ("You're
Gone" and "Moon of Silver") and backing Carl Spencer on
CANDLELIGHT records in 1957, the Mellows called it quits. Lillian married and
left to devote time to her family. Arthur Crier has continued in the music
business with a career that includes all aspects of the field singing, writing,
arranging and producing. Among his accomplishments are the formation of the
Halos in the early 1960's. The Halos, who at various times have included former
Mellows Harold Johnson and Gary Morrison, have backed everyone from Curtis Lee
to Johnny Mathis as well as recording themselves.
In the late 1980's the Mellows reunited, frequently
performed at UGHA. The new Mellows included Lillian Leech, Gary Morrison, Arthur
Crier and Eugene Tompkins, formelry of the Limelights. They again reached a
level of excellence most groups never attain. After Gary Morrison's untimely
passing, Sammy Fain, also a former Limelighter joined the Mellows.
Today, Mellows Lillian Leech, Arthur Crier, Eugene
Tompkins and Sammy Fain all continue to keep vocal harmony alive through the
Morrisania Review. The seven voice ensemble was inspried by the recent National
Geographic Explorer TV feature on Bronx singers. In addition to the Mellows, the
group also includes such legendary Bronx singers as Dean Barlow (Crickets),
Bobby Mansfield (Wrens) and Waldo Champen (Bachelors, Five Delights).
Our congratulations tonight to our friends, the
Mellows a most welcomed addition to UGHA's Hall of Fame.
To trace the
origin of the Robins, we go back to the late 40's and 3 high school buddies,
Terrell Leonard and the Richards brothers, Bill and Roy. As the A-Sharp Trio
they entered a talent show at the Johnny Otis Club, The Barrelhousc, in Watts
early 1949. After capturing second prize, Otis suggested that they add a bass
lead to their group so they cound diversify on their material. Upon agreeing,
Otis set them up with another local talent, Bobby Nunn. Changing their name
this quartet became the 4 Bluebirds featuring Bobby Nunn on lead. They were
greatly influenced by the Ravens in their style.
recording session with ALADDIN Records in May of 1949 brought 2 releases, one
on ALADDIN and one on subsidiary, SCORE, along with a name change
to compete with the Ravens, The "Robins". Next label stop for the
under the guidance of Johnny Otis, was for Newark, NJ based SAVORY records where
the group found success with a 112 dozen releases in ' 1949 and 1950. They
also backed up Little Esther Phillips on SAVORY in 1950, including the
national R&B hit, "Double Crossing Blues". 1950 and 51 saw the
Robins recording for various labels such as RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD as the
Robbins on MODERN
and the Nic Nacks on RPM.
a recording contract from the major RCA label from the Robins, They added the
sweet tenor lead of Grady Chapman to compliment Bobby Nunn's bass voice, and
developd a mature, polished sound that is evident on their 5 RCA releases. The
one RCA release that stands out among those five to collectors and students of
R&B music is "How Would You Know", featuring Chapman's smooth,
successfully teaming up with Leiber and Stoller in 1954, they had a couple of
good but light selling releases for the CROWN record label. Leiber and Stoller
then took the Robins, now a sextet, and produced hits for the short lived
SPARK record label. Carl Gardner was added in 1954 as another tenor lead after
Tye Leonard heard him singing while he was shining Leonard's shoes one
afternoon on Western Ave. in Los Angeles. "Riot In Cell Block #9",
the Robins first hit for SPARK, featured Richard Berry of the Flairs who was
brought in to the recording session after Bobby Nunn's attempts were
unsatisfactory to Leiber and Stoller. All in all, there were six releases on
SPARK in 1954‑55 including my personal favorite and a classic ballad,
"If Teardrops Were Kisses" with Carl Gardner on lead and also the
Robins last release, the ever popular, "Smokey Joe's Cafe".
At this point
in the illustrious career of the Robins, a split came about. Bobby Nunn and Carl
Gardner left to form the Coasters and record for ATCO records, who bought the
rights to "Smokey Joe's Cafe". The Robins continued through with Grady
Chapman, Tye Leonard and the Richards brothers along with newly acquired bass,
The legend of
the Robins continued when the group signed a contract with Gene Norman's WHIPPET
record label in late 1955. The group's very first WHIPPET release, "Cherry
Lips" was a hit and often heard on Alan Freed's NYC radio program. Another
of the group's six WHIPPET releases that caused a stir and made the charts was
their rhythmic arrangement of "Old Black Magic" in 1956. Although
never given credit, Louie Prima and Keely Smith's major hit version of
"Magic" was inspired by the Robins when Prima caught their act in a
Los Angeles club and copied their arrangement on a napkin.
went through numerous personnel changes starting in 1958 and recorded for
various independent California labels until the early 60's. The most notable of
these releases was for theLAVENDER label in 1961, an uptempo version of
"White Cliffs Of Dover" featuring Bobby Sheen (Bob B. Soxx) on lead.
and Bobby Nunn are no longer with us. We remember them tonight as we honor the
original Robins: Tye Leonard, Bill Richards, and Grady Chapman.
Selection of a pioneer group to UGHA's Hall of Fame
depends on demonstrated influence on quartets that have followed them. No
where is that clearer than in this year's selection of the Swan Silvertones
and their most famous lead singer, the Reverend Claude Jeter. Jeter's use of a
falsetto lead revolutionized the way we think of vocal harmony. In fifty seven
years of singing, the Swan Silvertones excelled in vocal harmony and set the
stage for countless groups that came after them.
Claude leter was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and
grew up singing quartet harmony. While in his teens, Claude's family moved to
Kentucky and he began working in the coal mines of nearby Coalwood, West
Virginia. in 1938, he formed a group called the Four Harmony Kings with his
brother and two other coal miners. Touring nearby churches on weekends, the
group changed its name to the Silvertone Singers and sang locally for a few
years. In the early 1940's the group, now consisting of Claude Jeter, John
Miles, Leroy Watkins and Eddie Boroughas, landed a daily radio program on a
50,000 watt radio station in Knoxville, Tennessee. Since the program was
sponsored by the Swan Baker, their name changed again to the Swan Silvertones.
In 1946, the Swan Silvertones were given some time
off from the radio show to record for King records in Cincinnati. The group
now consisted of Claude Jeter (lead), Albert Reed (tenor). Solomon Womack
(baritone), John Miles (baritone) and William Johnson (bass). In contrast to
Jeter's falsetto lead, Womack was brought in to provide a hard, Gospel lead.
After the first King session, Roosevelt Payne replaced Albert Reed and Henry
Brossard became the new bass. Rev. Percell Perkins also provided an extra
baritone voice on some of the King recordings.
In the early 1950's the Swan Silvertones moved their base of operations to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By 1952, the Swan Silvertones had signed with Specialty records. In three years with Specialty, the group recorded over twenty five sides, though only a handful were issued on singles during the group's stay. Payne and Perkins left the group prior to 1952. New additions to the group during this period included tenors Robert Crenshaw and John Manson, as well as baritone Paul Owens. Owens had sung with the Sensational Nightingales and Dixie Hummingbirds prior to joining the Silvertones. As well as becoming the group's second lead, Paul Owens was a brilliant arranger and helped the Swan Silvertones develop a style. By the last Specialty session, Dewey Young had replaced Reverend Crenshaw.
In 1956, the Swan Silvertones moved to Chicago's Vee
Jay label where they finally reached the height of their popularity. Henry
Brossard left after the first VeeJay session, being replaced by William Connor,
formerly of the Trumpeteers. The Silvertones also experimented with a third lead
at this time, trying Robert Crutcher for two recording sessions before settling
on the talents of Louis Johnson. Each of the group's three leads had their own
distinct singing syde; Claude Jeter with his smooth sweet falsetto, Paul Owens
with his strong sophisticated tenor voice and Louis Johnson with his rough, hard
shouting voice. Another significant addition to the group at this time was
guitarist, Linwood Hargrove. Hargrove's guitar helped give the group its unique
sound. On Vee Jay, the Swan Silvertones were quite successful. Some of their
most remembered sides include "The Lord's Prayer", "Only
Believe", "Oh Mary Don't You Weep", "My Rock" and
By 1967 Claude Jeter was ordained a minister and
retired from the Swan Silvertones. Vee Jay records folded and the Silvertones
moved to the Hob label with new lead singer, Carl Davis. In 1969, Davis was
himself replaced by James Lewis. The Swan Silvertones continued to record for
Hob throughout the 1970's. Paul Owens left the Swan Silvertones in the early
1970's to join the Brooklyn Allstars. He now sings with the Dixie Hummingbirds.
John Miles stayed with the group until 1978, when he retired, leaving only Louis
Johnson to direct the group. In the early 1980's the group moved to Savoy
records. Personnel changes have occurred through the years, but the basic
"Swan Silvertone sound" still remains. Later Swan Silvertones have
included Sarnual Hubbard, Bill Elliot, Marvin Lattimore, Mickey Martin, Leonard
Cox and Willie Jones.
The United in Group Harmony Association is pleased to
recognize the many contributions of the Swan Silvertones to vocal harmony,
through the group's induction into our Hall of Fame.
As black Gospel quartet singing helped shape the
course of American R&B and Pop harmony, the Dixie Hummingbirds helped
shape the course of black Gospel quartet singing. In a sixty‑seven year
career that is still going strong, the "Birds" have done it all. To
say they've had a profound influence on all fields of quartet singing, not
just Gospel, is an understatement. The "Birds" have toured the world
over, performing in churches as well as folk and jazz festivals, concert halls
and at colleges and universities. They are rightfully considered the
grandfathers of Gospel quartet singing and one of the greatest vocal groups of
The Dixie Hummingbirds trace their roots back to
Greenville, South Carolina in 1928. It was there that 11 year old baritone
James Davis started a quartet called the Church of God Juniors. Besides Davis,
the original group contained Barney Gipson (lead), Barney Parks (baritone) and
J.B. Matterson (bass). Matterson was soon replaced by Fred Owens and the group
stayed together through school, changing their name to the Stirling High
After high school, the young quartet decided to tour,
becoming the Dixie Hummingbirds. By the 1950's, groups named after birds
became commonplace, but in the early 1930's, James Davis' choice of the name
was quite unique. Thus, the Dixie Hummingbirds officially became one of the
first "bird" groups.
Throughout the mid and late 1930's the Dixie
Hummingbirds toured the Southeast, singing in hundreds of churches. The
Hummingbirds' personnel also went through some changes. James Davis assumed
the lead. Sam Briggs took over bass but lasted only a short time. The
Hummingbirds found his replacement, Jimmy Brown, singing with a Spartanburg,
South Carolina quartet called the Royal Lights. The Birds were also impressed
with another young member of the Royal Lights, baritone Ira Tucker. Though
they did not have a place for Tucker at that time, they told him that they'd
back for him at a later time. Later, Jimmy Brown was himself replaced by Jimmy
Bryant, the legendary former bass of the Heavenly Gospel Singers. By the time
the Dixie Hummingbirds first recorded for Decca in 1939, the group consisted
of James Davis (lead/baritone); Fred Baker (tenor); Barney Parks (baritone);
and Jimmy Bryant (bass).
It was 1939 before the Dixie Hummingbirds added one
of the most powerful leads in quartet history, Ira Tucker. Initially used as a
tenor, the Spartanburg born Tucker was soon doing most of the leads. Jimmy
Bryant left, being replaced first with William Henry and then with William
Bobo. Bobo, a phenomenal bass singer, also from Spartanburg, had grown
up down the street from Tucker. He'd also sang in the Heavenly Gospel Singers
prior to joining the Hummingbirds.
In 1942, the Dixie Hummingbirds relocated to
Philadelphia. There they got their own radio program on WCAU, "Ninety
Minutes From Broadway", singing acappella three days a week under the
name the Swanee Quintet. When Golden
Gate Quartet opened the door for Spiritual quartets
to do club work, the Dixie Hummingbirds followed them into New York City's
Cafe Society. For the Cafe Society performances, the Birds used the name
In 1943, Barney Parks entered the service. He was
replaced initially by Wilson Baker, and then with Beachy Thompson. Thompson
was originally from Charlotte, North Carolina. Prior to joining the
Hummingbirds in 1944, he had been singing with the Willing Four from
Baltimore, the group that later became the Trumpeteers. The line up of Ira
Tucker (lead), James Davis (baritone), Beachy Thompson (tenor), and William
Bobo (bass), did a few sides for Manor records in 1944 (some backing Ernstine
Washington) before recording eighteen classic sides for Apollo between 1946
and 1949. Some of these Apollo masterpieces in harmony include, "In The
Storm Too Long", "God Is Speaking", "Nobody Knows The
Trouble I've Seen" and "Journey To The Sky". During the time
the group really developed in style and grew in popularity.
In 1949 and 1950, the Dixie Hummingbirds recorded for
Philadelphia's Gotham label, both on their own and with the female Gospel
quintet, the Angelic Gospel Singers. Gotham sides included, "I'll Be
Satisfied", "Search Me Lord" and "Move On Up A Little
Higher". During the last Gotham session, the
Hummingbirds added another tenor, Ernest James. James didn't last long, being
replaced in 1951 by Paul Owens. Paul Owens had been an original member and
lead of the Sensational Nightingales before joining the Birds. In his first
stint with the Hummingbirds, Paul Owens stayed only about a year just
long enough to record two sides with the group for Okeh records. "I'll
Live Again" and "I'll Never Forget" both feature exquisite duel
leads with Ira Tucker and Paul Owens. Paul Owens left the group in 1952 to
join the Swan Silvertones, but he was to return later to play a larger role in
The Dixie Hummingbirds signed with Peacock records in
1952, a label they would record for well into the 1970's. Howard Carroll,
another original member of the Nightingales, joined the Dixie Hummingbirds as
a guitarist. In 1954, James Walker was added to the group to share the leads
with Ira Tucker. James Walker had formerly led the Southern Sons Quartet on
teh Trumpet label. This established the classic line up of Tucker, Walker,
Thompson, Davis, Bobo and Carroll, for which the Hummingbirds are best known.
Over the next forty years, the Dixie Hummingbirds' career reached heights
known to very few vocal groups. Their recordings for Peacock all were strong
sellers in the Gospel music market. Songs like "Wading Through Blood And
Water", "Christian Automobile" "Our Prayer For
Peace", "Your Good Deeds" and "Thanks To Thee" are
well known. In their 1953 recording of "Let's Go Out To The
Programs", the Birds sing a medley of well known Gospel quartet songs by
imitating the voices of groups like the Five Blind Boys, Soul Stirrers and
others. It became an instant favorite. The group has performed at Carnegie
Hall and Madison Square Garden. In 1960 they appeared in the Italian film
"The World at Night".
Paul Simon selected the Dixie Hummingbirds to back him on his 1973 recording of "Loves Me Like A Rock". The record became a top ten hit and gave the group even wider exposure. The Hummingbirds also came out with their own version of the song which spent eight weeks on the Soul Charts. The Hummingbirds received a Grammy for the song.
William Bobo passed away in 1976. The Dixie
Hummingbirds began placing his microphone on stage, unused, in tribute to Bobo.
In the late I 980's Paul Owens returned to the Hummingbirds and continues with
them today. James Walker passed away in 1992. Beachie Thompson and James Davis
have retired from singing. The current Dixie Hummingbirds consist of Ira Tucker,
Paul Owens, Howard Carroll and new member, Carl Davis. The Birds have appeared
on hundreds of radio and TV shows. Ebony magazine once ran an article on the
group, recognizing them as the world's greatest Gospel group. For their
tremendous cotruibutions tovocal harmony, tonight UGHA welcomes the Dixie
Hummingbirds into its Hall of Fame.
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