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The Dixie Hummingbirds

A pioneering force behind the evolution of the modern gospel quartet sound, the Dixie Hummingbirds were among the longest-lived and most successful groups of their era; renowned for their imaginative arrangements, progressive harmonies, and all-around versatility, they earned almost universal recognition as the greatest Southern quartet of their generation, and their influence spread not only over the world of spiritual music but also inspired secular artists ranging from Jackie Wilson to Bobby "Blue" Bland to the Temptations. Formed in Greenville, SC, by James B. Davis, the Dixie Hummingbirds began their career during the late '30s as a jubilee-styled act; joined in 1938 by 13-year-old baritone phenom Ira Tucker and bass singer extraordinaire Willie Bobo, a former member of the Heavenly Gospel Singers, the group made its recorded debut a year later on Decca, issuing singles such as "Soon Will Be Done with the Troubles of This World," "Little Wooden Church," and "Joshua Journeyed to Jericho."

Upon relocating to Philadelphia in 1942, the Hummingbirds' popularity began to grow -- Tucker, in particular, wowed audiences with his flamboyant theatrics, rejecting the long tradition of "flat-footed" singers rooted in place on-stage in favor of running up the aisles and rocking prayerfully on his knees. By 1944, he was even regularly jumping off stages -- indeed, the frenetic showmanship of soul music may have had its origins in Tucker's manic intensity, itself an emulation of country preaching. At the same time, the Hummingbirds' harmonies continued to grow more sophisticated; the addition of Paul Owens completed the quartet's development, and together he and Tucker honed a style they dubbed "trickeration," a kind of note-bending distinguished by sensual lyrical finesse and staggering vocal intricacy. Their virtuosity did not go unnoticed by audiences, and throughout the mid-'40s -- an acknowledged golden age of a cappella quartet singing -- the group regularly played to packed houses throughout the South.

Under names like the Swanee Quintet and the Jericho Boys, the Dixie Hummingbirds also regularly appeared on Philadelphia radio station WCAU; it was as the Jericho Boys that they auditioned for the legendary producer John Hammond, who in 1942 booked them into the Cafe Society Downtown, then the Greenwich Village area's preeminent showcase for black talent. By 1946, the Hummingbirds were again recording, cutting sides for labels including Apollo and, later in the decade, Gotham and Hob. In 1952, what many consider the group's definitive lineup -- a roster of Tucker, Davis, Bobo, Beachey Thompson, James Walker (replacing Owens), and ace guitarist Howard Carroll, a roster that held intact for close to a quarter century -- signed to the Peacock label, where over the course of the following decade they recorded a series of masterpieces including 1952's "Trouble in My Way," 1953's "Let's Go Out to the Programs," 1954's "Christian's Testimonial," 1957's "Christian Automobile," and 1959's "Nobody Knows the Trouble I See."

After earning a standing ovation for their performance at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival (captured on the Gospel at Newport LP), the Hummingbirds essentially retired from mainstream appearances to focus solely on the church circuit. They did, however, burst back into the popular consciousness in 1973, backing Paul Simon on his pop smash "Loves Me Like a Rock." The death of Willie Bobo in 1976 brought to a sad end a lengthy chapter of the Hummingbirds' history -- his membership in their ranks dated back to the late '30s -- but the surviving members forged on; just two years later, Ebony magazine named them "The World's Greatest Gospel Group." After Davis retired in 1984, Tucker was the last remaining link to the quartet's formative years; despite the subsequent deaths of Walker in 1992 and Thompson in 1994, Tucker continued leading the group at the century's end, recruiting new blood to keep the Dixie Hummingbirds' spirit alive for years to follow, celebrating their seventh decade with 1999's Music in the Air: The 70th Anniversary All-Star Tribute. The group continued under Tucker's leadership until June 2008, when Tucker died due to complications stemming from heart disease. The remaining members of the group declared they would press on and keep the legacy of the Dixie Hummingbirds alive. ~ Jason Ankeny
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Moving On

1. Touch Me Lord

2. Mother's Crying Again

3. The Works Of God

4. After The Rapture

5. Moving On

6. Call On The Lord

7. The Dollar And The Devil

8. What A Friend

x

Track List: Platinum Gospel: The Dixie Hummingbirds

1. Move On Up A Little Higher

2. I'll Be Satisfied

3. Come Down Yonder

4. I Must Have Jesus

5. Get Away Jordan

6. What Then

7. Is There Anyone In Heaven

8. Jesus Will Answer Prayer

9. In The Morning

10. Beam From Heaven

11. My Time Ain't Long

12. See About Me

x

Track List: Gospel's Finest

1. Touch Me Lord

2. Mother Is Crying Again

3. The Works Of God

4. After The Rapture

5. Movin' On

6. Call On The Lord

7. When The Dollar Rules The Pulpit

8. What A Friend We Have In Jesus

9. Anthem

x

Track List: This Is Gospel: Dixie Hummingbirds - Move On Up A

1. Move On Up A Little Higher

2. In The Morning

3. Beaming From Heaven

4. Jesus Will Answer Prayer

5. Young Man

6. I'll Be Satisfied

7. Standing On The Highway

8. Get Away Jordan

9. Mercy Lord

11. Cool Down Yonder

12. I Must Have Jesus

13. My Time Ain't Long

16. One Day

17. See About Me

18. Search Me Lord

x

Track List: Still... Keepin' It Real: The Last Man Standing

1. Ezekiel Saw The Wheel

2. Wonderful To Be Alive

3. He Watches Out For Me

4. Father Alone

5. Personal Jesus

6. It Won't Be Long

7. Christian's Automobile

8. Lov Your Fellow Man

9. Go Tell It On The Mountain

10. Don't Let Me Fall

x

Track List: 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best Of The Dixie Hummingbirds

1. Loves Me Like A Rock

2. Ezekiel Saw The Wheel

3. Jesus Children Of America

4. Two Little Fishes (And Five Loaves Of Bread)

5. Going On

6. Nobody Knows The Trouble I See

7. You Don't Have Nothing

8. Bedside Of A Neighbor

9. Thank You For One More Day

10. The Final Edition

11. Let's Go Out To The Programs

12. Christian's Automobile

x

Track List: Thank You For One More Day: The 70th Anniversary Of The Dixie Hummingbirds

1. Loves Me Like A Rock

2. I've Been Born Again

3. Let's Go Out To The Program

4. Christian's Automobile

5. Bedside Of A Neighbor

6. You Don't Have Nothing

7. Mother's Prayer

8. Ezekiel Saw The Wheel

9. In The Morning

10. If Anybody Asks You

11. The Final Edition

12. Two Little Fishes (And Five Loaves Of Bread)

13. Thank You For One More Day

14. Our Prayer For Peace

x

Track List: In Good Health

1. It Will Be Alright

2. You Are Everything I Need

3. Thank You For One More Day

4. I'll Be Free

5. It Will Be So Wonderful

6. Good Health

7. Let Us Praise Him

8. Testify

9. I'll Live Again

10. Jesus Is The Light Of The World

x

Track List: Mama

1. Mama

2. Heaven's Grocery Store

3. Jesus Is All I Need

4. Moving On

5. What's Wrong With You?

6. We Need Power

7. Jesus Is Coming Soon

8. The Love Of Joseph And Mary

x

Track List: The Best Of The Dixie Hummingbirds

1. Let's Go Out To The Programs

2. The Final Edition

3. Thank You For One More Day

4. Will The Lord Be With Me

5. What A Friend

6. Christian Automobile

7. Bedside Of A Neighbor

8. In The Morning

9. If Anybody Asks You

11. Our Prayer For Peace

12. Another Day

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