The Zion Travelers
While not achieving the national notoriety of some of their contemporary Gospel Quartets like the Soul Stirrers and the Swan Silvertones, never the less the Zion Travelers were certainly one of the finest gospel quartets of the period. The group, featuring L.C. Cohen and Bartha L. Watkins on leads first recorded in the late 1940's first on the Atlas label and followed up with other releases on Rex and Ruby, all relatively obscure labels. In 1953, the group moved over to the Aladdin/Score complex and recorded several sides for those labels. In 1956, the group shifted to Dootone/Dooto and had considerable output there going into the sixties. An excellent CD from Ace Records showcases all their Dootone material including some previously unreleased cuts.(the track listing is below) During the late fifties they also recorded for Ebb and Excell. Both sides of their single Ebb release "Believe In Me" and "Beautiful City" can be found on another Ace CD "The Ebb Story Vol-2"
Founded in 1938, by lead tenor Claude Jeter, The Swan Silvertones were originally known as The Four Harmony Kings. Their name changed to the Silvertone Singers and later Swan's Silvertone Singers before reaching the final form above. The "Swan" came from the Swan Bakery Company, who sponsored their radio program. Jeter's tenor/falsetto was the centerpoint of the group's sound, and was an influence on both other gospel and soul singers. The Swans went through several personnel changes and featured a number of "harder " 2nd leads like Solomon Wommack and Paul Johnson, contrasting with Jeter's smooth tenor lead. Some of their more memorable recordings are "Trouble In My Way", "How I Got Over" and "Mary Don't You Weep". Jeter's improvised lyric "I'll be a bridge over deep water" from the latter was to provide inspiration to writer Paul Simon for his own classic gospel steeped composition "Bridge Over Troubled Water".
As the name suggests, The Spirit Of Memphis was based out of Memphis, TN. and was considered the top Gospel Quartet in that area. The group began in the late 20's, but the core of the group that first recorded in 1949 came together in the mid 30's. This group featured the baritone lead of Jet Bledsoe, with secondary leads from Silas Steele and Wilmer "Little Axe" Broadnax. One of the finest of the original 1949 recordings is "Blessed Are The Dead" which effectively used minor-to-major key changes to capture the lyrical imagery. In the mid 50's, Joe Hinton joined the group and provided exquisite high tenor leads on "In The Garden" and "Lost In Sin"* . Based on the Spaniels secular hit "Peace Of Mind", which in itself was almost gospel, the Spirit Of Memphis' "Lost In Sin" transform's what was already a great song into one of the most moving gospel numbers ever recorded. Joe Hinton later acheived fame as a soul singer with his 1964 hit of "Funny How Time Slips Away".
* To hear a Real Audio version of "Lost In Sin" Click HERE to go to Tony Fournier's Vocal Group Record of The Week Page.
In the late 40's and into the 50's, The Soul Stirrers were considered , and deservedly so, one of the finest quartets singing. The group had roots going back to 1926 with original founder S.R. Crain. In 1937 the restructured group now featured the lead voice of R.H. Harris, and moved from the older Jubilee style to a newer hard style of gospel. The Stirrers were extremely influential in advancing this switch lead, hard gospel style. Harris' tenor lead was often countered with a 2nd baritone lead from Paul Foster. When Harris decided to leave the group, he was replaced by a young singer who was later to become the Stirrer's most famous member. Sam Cooke, known to secular music fans for his classic "You Send Me", got his start with the Soul Stirrers as R.H. Harris' replacement. Cooke not only adequately filled Harris' shoes, but led the Soul Stirrers on some of their most thrilling material. Songs like "Touch The Hem Of His Garment", "How Far Am I From Canaan?", "Peace In The Valley" and "The Last Mile Of The Way" showcase Cooke's enormous vocal talent. But with or without Cooke, the Soul Stirrers rank as one of the premier Gospel Quartets of all time.
Following is a sampling of artists and CD's representing gospel quartet singing. While certainly not all inclusive, it's a good starting point for developing an appreciation of this wonderful musical genre.
Soul Stirrers - Shine On Me - Specialty (features R.H. Harris)
Soul Stirrers - The Last Mile Of The Way - Specialty ( Sam Cooke, Paul Foster)
Sam Cooke With The Soul Stirrers - Specialty
Dixie Hummingbirds - Best Of Dixie Hummingbirds - MCA
Dixie Hummingbirds - 1939-1947 - Documents
Zion Travelers - Dootone Masters - Ace
Hightower Brothers - Best Of The Hightower Brothers - AVI
Swan Silvertones - Singin' In My Soul - Charly
Swan Silvertones - My Rock/Love Lifted Me - Specialty
Swan Silvertones - Gospel Soul -King
Gotham Gospel Vol 1-2 - Various Groups - Collectables
Chosen Gospel Singers - The Lifeboat - Specialty ( featuring Lou Rawls)
Detroiters/Golden Echoes - Old Time Religion - Specialty
Harmonizing Four - God Will Take Care Of You - Vee Jay
Fairfield Four - Standing On The Rock - Ace
Trumpeteers - Milky White Way - Gospel Jubilee
Radio Four - There's Gonna Be Joy - Ace
Southern Sons - Deep South Gospel - Alligator
Golden Gate Quartet - Greatest Hits - Blue Moon
Golden Gate Quartet - Travellin' Shoes - Bluebird
Pilgrim Travellers - Best of The Pilgrim Travellers - Specialty
Swing Time Gospel- The Acappella Groups - Various - Night Train International
Sensational Nightingales - Best Of The Sensational Nightingales - MCA
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