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Tue, 06.06.1916

James B. Davis, Gospel Music Icon born

James B. Davis

*James B. Davis was born on this date in 1916. He was a Black gospel music singer and a founder of The Dixie Hummingbirds, one of the longest-lasting and most influential groups in gospel music.

From Greenville, S.C., James Bodie Davis formed his earliest a cappella quartet at the nearby Church of God Holiness at age 12, called the Sterling High School Quartet. The next year he formalized the name to the Dixie Hummingbirds because "that was the only bird that could fly backward and forwards, and that was how our career seemed to be going at the time," he later told a writer. The group's sound changed when Ira Tucker joined in 1938, and they recorded their first album on the Decca Records label.

During a lifetime of touring and recording, he was the business leader and disciplinarian. Highlights include singing at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival and recording with Paul Simon on his 1973 song "Loves Me Like a Rock." The Dixie Hummingbirds cover of the Paul Simon song won a 1973 Grammy Award in the soul gospel category. They also had a nomination in 2007 for the best traditional gospel album, for Still Keeping It Real (MCG Records). He helped cement its later reputation for dazzling harmonies and elaborate dance moves borrowed from spirited church services.

He remained leader, manager, and chief disciplinarian of the group until retiring in 1984. By that time, the group was regarded as one of the most venerable of the pop-gospel entertainment partnerships of the past century. James B. Davis died of a heart ailment in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 17, 2007.

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