Synopses & Reviews
From the Jim Crow world of 1920s Greenville, South Carolina, to Greenwich Village's Cafe Society in the '40s, to their 1974 Grammy-winning collaboration on "Loves Me Like a Rock," the Dixie Hummingbirds have been one of gospel's most durable and inspiring groups. Now, J. Jerome Zolten tells the Hummingbirds' fascinating story and with it the story of a changing music industry and a changing nation.
When James Davis and his high-school friends starting singing together in a rural South Carolina church they could not have foreseen the road that was about to unfold before them. They began a ten-year jaunt of "wildcatting," traveling from town to town, working local radio stations, schools, and churches, struggling to make a name for themselves. By 1939 the a cappella singers were recording their four-part harmony spirituals on the prestigious Decca label. By 1942 they had moved north to Philadelphia and then New York where, backed by Lester Young's band, they regularly brought the house down at the city's first integrated nightclub, Cafe Society. From there the group rode a wave of popularity that would propel them to nation-wide tours, major record contracts, collaborations with Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon, and a career still vibrant today as they approach their seventy-fifth anniversary.
Drawing generously on interviews with Hank Ballard, Otis Williams, and other artists who worked with the Hummingbirds, as well as with members James Davis, Ira Tucker, Howard Carroll, and many others, Great God A'Mighty! brings vividly to life the growth of a gospel group and of gospel music itself.
"Through personnel and life changes, the 'Birds have endured. Welcome this book with its generous discography to the pop-music shelves." Mike Tribby, Booklist
"Although the author conscientiously offers numerous quotes from the singers themselves, other musicians, and the critics who hailed them, he fails to bring the Birds fully to life. Trapped by facts, they seldom step out from behind the music to tell their own stories. Detailed, but disappointingly dry." Kirkus Reviews
"Zolten fluently unfolds this story, with its sundry subplots and themes. His descriptions of music are evocative, and he neither minimizes nor exaggerates the gospel world's fierce moral and showbiz competitiveness....And while he periodically overstates [the Birds'] innovations and their direct influence on doo-wop and soul, he makes a case that they were exemplars and conveyors of cultural and musical change." Gene Santoro, The New York Times Book Review
"[T]he author places the Dixie Hummingbirds in their social and musical contexts, discussing how pre-World War II racism and then the Civil Rights Movement influenced the group, and notes their impact on doo-wop and Motown. This intriguing, fast-moving history is highly recommended for anyone interested in music, social history, gospel, or the American experience." Library Journal
Zolten offers a high-flying account of gospel's most revered groups and the social and musical history they helped make. 20 halftones.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -346), discography (p. -356), and indexes.
About the Author
is an Assistant Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences and American Studies at Penn State University Altoona. The co-author of Speaking to an Audience
, he has written profiles of blues artists for Living Blues
magazine and penned the liner notes to two of The Dixie Hummingbirds latest compilation CDs. A part-time record producer and promoter, he lives in Warriors Mark, Pennsylvania.
Table of Contents
A wheel in a wheel, 'way up in the middle of the air (1916-1928) -- I just got on my travelin' shoes (1928-1938) -- Ain't gonna study war no more (1939-1942) -- Twelve gates to the city (1943-1944) -- Move on up a little higher (1945-1949) -- My record will be there (1950-1951) -- Let's go out to the programs (1952-1959) -- Loves me like a rock (1960-1976) -- Who are we? (1977 and beyond).