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Tue, 09.08.2009

The Dixie Hummingbirds, Gospel Group is Formed

The founding of the Dixie Hummingbirds in 1928 is celebrated on this date. They are a Black Gospel singing group.

The Dixie Hummingbirds formed in the late 1920s in Greenville, S.C.  In the beginning, they were young boys, members of the Church of God Holiness choir in Greenville's Meadow Bottoms neighborhood.  The original quartet included Bonnie Gipson, Jr. (lead tenor), James Davis (tenor), Barney Parks (baritone), and J. B. Matterson (bass).

First called the Junior Boys, they were immersed in the Black Church spiritual tradition of the times. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Ezekiel Saw the Wheel," and "Old Black Joe" was part of their regular repertoire.  When they started high school, they changed their name to the Sterling High School Quartet.

They took their first step toward a professional career after graduating at the annual national convention of the Church of God Holiness in Atlanta and decided to take off.  They emulated musical groups like the Golden Gate Quartet, the Southernaires, and the Heavenly Gospel Singers. The Dixie Hummingbirds made their first recordings in 1939 when only James Davis and Barney Parks remained. The new members were tenor Wilson Baker and bass singer Jimmy Bryant. In 1942, the Dixie Hummingbirds moved to Philadelphia.  Shortly after, they had a regular show over WCAU radio and a long-term engagement at Cafe Society, a New York City nightclub, where they were billed as the Jericho Quartet.

The Hummingbirds' popularity began to grow as their harmonies became more sophisticated. Their virtuosity did not go unnoticed by audiences, and throughout the mid-1940s, the group regularly played to packed houses throughout the south. In 1944, they recorded for the Regis and Manor labels and the Apollo label in New York City. The group's personnel had changed again, with Davis as the only original.

In 1952, The Hummingbirds began recording for Peacock Records. For the next 24 years, the group would remain the same: Ira Tucker, James Walker, James Davis, Beachey Thompson, William Bobo, and Howard Carroll.

After earning a standing ovation for their performance at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival, they retired from mainstream appearances to focus solely on the church circuit. They became popular in 1973, backing Paul Simon on his "Loves Me Like a Rock." The death of Willie Bobo in 1976 "brought to a sad end a lengthy chapter of the Hummingbirds' history." After Davis retired in 1984, their current lineup included Ira Tucker, Paul Owens, Howard Carroll, Carl Davis, and William Bright.

Tucker continued leading the group at the 20th century's end, recruiting new blood to keep the Dixie Hummingbirds' spirit alive, celebrating their seventh decade with 1999's "Music in the Air: The 70th Anniversary All-Star Tribute." The Dixie Hummingbirds remain one of the leading gospel quartets on the road today.

The group now consists of Ira Tucker (lead vocals), William Bright (vocals), Carlton Lewis, III (vocals), Cornell Mcknight (bass), Torrey Nettles (drums/vocals), and Lyndon Baines Jones (guitar & vocals).

Ira Tucker, Sr, passed away, due to complications from heart disease, on the morning of June 24, 2008, at the age of 83.

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