Early Gospel Singers – B

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Name: Deacon L J Bates
Aka: Pseudonym for Blind Lemon Jefferson
Name: Rev. Jim Beal
Location: Coldwater, Mississippi
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Biography Synopsis: Rev. Jim Beal from Coldwater, Mississippi was a Baptist preacher. He went to Chicago to see some relatives and was “discovered” by recording executive Jack Kapp preaching on the streets. Jack Kapp said of Rev. Beal: “He is an unadulterated Southern preacher who has the primitive Negro expression”.
– Songsters & Saints : Vocal Traditions on Race Records, Paul Oliver, Cambridge University Press, 1984, p147
– Blues & Gospel Records (1890-1943) Dixon, Godrich  and Rye, Oxford University Press, 1997 (Fourth Edition)
Recording career: Four sermons recorded 24th August 1929
Most popular song(s): “The Hand Of The Lord Was Upon Me (And I Went Out In The Spirit)”
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Name: Rev. James Beard
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Biography Synopsis: Rev. Beard is believed to have been associated with the Biddleville Quintette.
– Blues & Gospel Records (1890-1943) Dixon, Godrich  and Rye, Oxford University Press, 1997 (Fourth Edition)
Recording career: Four sermons recorded on Paramount, January 1927
Most popular song(s): “Memory Of Departed Friends” – Click here for recording
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Name: Rev. Beaumont
Aka: Rev. Beaumont and His Congregation
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Recording career: 12 sermons with singing recorded March/April 1929
Most popular song(s): Noah Built The Ark
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Name: Elder Charles D. Beck
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Born: Mobile, Alabama circa 1900
Died: Circa 1972
Biography Synopsis: “…. Elder Charles Beck himself is featured on the other 17 tracks on this compilation and they range from vocal and piano renditions of Dorsey’s “Precious Lord” through to the Elder with full congregation including a wild kazoo player on the track “Changes”. What is clear is that Charles was a superb sanctified piano player”.
– Tony Cummings, Cross Rhythms: extract from Document BDCD-6035
Review (www.crossrhythms.co.uk)
Recording career: An extensive recording discography, which included over 60 songs over the span of two decades.
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References / links: AllMusic Bio
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Name: Bessemer Sunset Four
Location: Bessemer, Alabama
Biography Synopsis: The Bessemer Sunset Four (they were sometimes billed as the Bessemer Quartet) was formed in 1925 out of the ashes of the unrecorded Rolling Mill Four. Based out of Jefferson County, AL, the group consisted of lead singer Dave Brown, tenor Sam Riley, baritone Wash Ivey, and bass singer Pat Gaines. Their wonderful four-part harmonies were a textbook example of the Jubilee-style of gospel singing prevalent through the 1940s, when it gave way to the harder gospel styles of groups like the Soul Stirrers. The Bessemer Sunset Four recorded 27 tracks (three of which were never issued) for Vocalion Records between 1928 and 1930.

Source: AllMusic by Steve Leggett

Recording career: 1928-1930
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Name: Biddleville Quintette
Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
Biography Synopsis: The Biddleville Quintette ought now to be recognized as one of the great east coast African American gospel units of the early 20th century. The group waxed 36 sides for Paramount and QRS between September 1926 and August 1929. Original copies of their 78 rpm records are prized by collectors impressed with the Quintette’s passionate intensity and soulful delivery. These feature call and response sanctified singing and sermons peppered with emphatic shouts and hollers. The 1929 recordings include instances of shape-note singing and progressive congregational polyphony that make one wish they’d stayed together and kept cutting records to document the evolution of their style and technique for posterity. In an informational ellipsis worthy of a West African trickster deity, the Biddleville Quintette appeared to be posthumously impossible to pin down, and seemed for quite a while to defy researchers’ attempts to assign them a geographical home base. It took latter-day musical historians a surprisingly long time to locate Biddleville, which is a neighborhood on the north side of Charlotte, N.C., adjacent to the campus of Johnson C. Smith College, formerly known as the Biddle Institute. While precious little information has been uncovered regarding the group, one contemporary recalled that the leader of this four-man-one-woman organization was a manual laborer named Adam Brown who resided in the Biddleville district. He and the Quintette did not record after 1929, but were still performing publicly in Charlotte during the ’30s. All of the Biddleville Quintette’s recordings have been reissued by the Document label.

Source: AllMusic

Recording career: 1926-29
References / links: This Train Is Bound For Glory – Video

Way Down In Egypt Land – Video

Coming To Christ – Video

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Name: Birmingham Jubilee Singers
Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Biography Synopsis: The Birmingham Jubilee Singers were an American gospel quartet from Birmingham, Alabama. They were put together in 1926 by Charles Bridges, a native of Birmingham suburb Pratt City, who studied voice at his high school and sang with the Dolomite Jubilee Singers after graduating. Bridges sang lead, accompanied by Leo “Lot” Key, tenor, Dave Ausbrooks, baritone, and Ed Sherrill, who, according to music historian Doug Seroff, was the deepest-voiced of all the bass singers in the Jefferson County movement.

The group became Alabama’s first professional quartet when in 1926 they were discovered by a Columbia Records talent scout, and travelled from Jefferson County to record in Atlanta. They achieved nationwide popularity through their live radio broadcasts over WAPI, WVRC and WJLD. Becoming one of Columbia’s most prolific black vocal groups, they played vaudeville stages in New York and Chicago with the likes of Ethel Waters. They played a mix of both gospel songs and secular material, performing on gospel and vaudeville stages alike. The group disbanded in the 1930s when Dave Ausbrooks died. Their complete recorded works were reissued on two compact discs in 1995 by the Document Records label.

Source: Last.fm

Recording career: 1926-29
Most popular song(s): Wade In The Water

He Took My Sins Away

References / links: Discography of American Historical Recordings
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Name: Rev. Johnnie Blakey
Location: ?
Born: ?
Died: ?
Biography Synopsis: When Reverend Johnny (or Johnnie) Blakey cut his first records for Paramount in Chicago during the autumn of 1927, he delivered his sermons with such visceral urgency that he was billed on the label as Son of Thunder. Nearly 70 years later, Document reissued Blakey’s first 14 recordings together with eight by Rev. M.L. Gipson, who waxed his first four titles in the same studios right around the same time as Blakey made his. Both individuals were affiliated with the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ (COGIC), as was Rev. F.W. McGee, who made the first of his many records a few months prior to Blakey and Gipson’s earliest recording dates. Gipson, who may have accompanied himself on guitar, was an exuberant singer who had a penchant for brandishing biblical references while working himself up into crests of inspiration. There is a wonderful call-and-response passage during “John Done Saw That Holy Number,” and the energetic “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” would compare nicely with the work of Elder Richard Bryant’s Sanctified Singers. These records, which have more musical content than those of Blakey, appear to constitute Gipson’s complete recorded works. Blakey’s output, on the other hand, was reissued by Document on three different collections, including Memphis Gospel: Complete Works (1927-1929) and Preachers and Congregations, Vol. 1. Blakey’s earliest recordings are his least subdued, and his “Let the Light Shine on Me” is a beautiful counterpart to Blind Willie Johnson’s “Let Your Light Shine on Me,” which was recorded in December 1929 and might well have been influenced by Blakey’s record. The breathing pattern of Blakey’s preaching technique should sound familiar to anyone who has listened to a fair amount of traditional African-American sermonizing. It is compared in the liner notes to that of Atlanta preacher Elder J.E. Burch, whose records have also been reissued by Document along with those of a certain Rev. Beaumont. In format and technique, Blakey’s style of presentation — a bit of heartfelt group vocalizing followed by ferocious bursts of emotionally charged testimony interspersed with guttural, almost percussive gasps — has since become widespread in African-American churches across the land. Blakey was among the first to deliver this kind of preaching inside of a recording studio, and these records might well have served to spread knowledge of it throughout North America and Europe, where record collectors have been gathering and preserving them for generations.

Source: AllMusic

Recording career: 1927-28
References / links: Discography of American Historical Recordings

The Devil Is Loose In The World – Video

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Name: The Blue Chips
Aka: Norridge Mayhams & The Blue Chips
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Most popular song(s): Crying Holy Unto The Lord
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Name: The Blue Ribbon Six
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Biography Synopsis: Formed in the 1930s the all female group comprised: Jimmie Weems, Looie Billings, Willie Belle Gervin, Eva Grier, Fannie Blure, Juanita Stewart, and Mildred Jones.
Recording career: 1930s – 1946?
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References / links: ‘Cleveland’s Gospel Music’, Frederick Burton, Arcadia Publishing 2003
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Name: Rev. William Herbert Brewster
Location: South Memphis, TN
Born: 2nd July 1897, Somerville, Tennessee
Died: 14th October 1987
Biography Synopsis: William Herbert Brewster was an influential African American Baptist minister, composer, dramatist, singer, poet and community leader.

A 1922 graduate of Roger Williams College in Nashville, Tennessee, Brewster settled in Memphis in the 1920s; he served as the pastor of the East Trigg Avenue Baptist Church in South Memphis from 1930 until his death in 1987. His lasting fame, however, is through his musical composition.

Though there are several available recordings of Rev. Brewster’s gospel groups The Brewster Singers and The Brewsteraires, there are only two vocal recordings of Rev. Brewster himself. Both recordings credited to “Rev. W.H. Brewster And His Camp Meeting Of The Air” appeared on the Gotham single “Give Me That Old Time Religion”/”So Glad I’ve Got Good Religion”. Each song features a narration by Rev. Brewster followed by vocals.

Brewster was also the composer of more than fifteen gospel music dramas, including From Auction Block to Glory (1941) which was the first nationally-staged African American religious drama that featured gospel songs written specifically for the production. He was honored by the Smithsonian Institution in 1982 for his music when it presented his musical drama Sowing in Tears, Reaping In Joy.
– Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Herbert_Brewster)

Most popular song(s): Among his more than 200 published songs are the gospel standards “Move On Up A Little Higher” (Mahalia Jackson’s first hit) and “Surely, God Is Able” (The Ward Singers). These songs hold the distinction of being the first million-selling black gospel records. Other Brewster songs that were hits included “Lord I’ve Tried” (The Soul Stirrers), “I’ll Go” (Queen C. Anderson), “I’m Climbing Higher And Higher” (Marion Williams), and a favorite of African-American gospel choirs, “The Old Landmark,” among many others.
– Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Herbert_Brewster)
Musical Influences: Apart from his vast legacy in the genre of black gospel music, Brewster also had a formative influence on a young Elvis Presley. Elvis occasionally attended services at East Trigg Avenue Baptist Church and listened to Brewster’s sermons which were broadcast on Sunday nights on the “Camp Meeting Of The Air” over Memphis radio station WHBQ. According to Presley biographer Peter Guralnick, “Dr. Brewster constantly preached on the theme that a better day was coming, one in which all men could walk as brothers, while across Memphis Sam Phillips listened on his radio every Sunday without fail.
– Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Herbert_Brewster)
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Name: Joe Washington Brown & Austin Coleman
Location: Louisiana
Biography Synopsis: Spirituals and work songs, rooted in both the slavery era and the West African societies from which most African-American slaves were originally taken, provided cultural sustenance to African Americans in the midst of intense racial oppression. Folklorists first began collecting traditional southern music in the late-19th century. By the 1920s and 1930s, John and Alan Lomax were recording southern musicians (African-American, white, and Mexican-American) for the Library of Congress. “Run Old Jeremiah” (L. of C. Archive of Folk Song AFS L3), sung by Joe Washington Brown and Austin Coleman in Jennings, Louisiana, in 1934, was a ring-shout, a religious song using a West African dance pattern, where the performers shuffled single file, clapping out a complex counter-rhythm. The ring-shout was common during slavery and remained popular well into the 20th century as a means of emotional and physical release during religious worship. The lyrics of the ring-shout spoke of escape from the travails of the present.
– American Social History Project (http://ashp.cuny.edu/)
Recording career: 1934
Most popular song(s): “Run Old Jeremiah” – Click here for recording
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Name: Bryant’s Jubilee Quartet/ette
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Name: Elder Richard Bryant’s Sanctified Singers
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Name: Bull City Red (George Washington)
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Name: Elder J. E. Burch
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Name: Rev. J. C. Burnett
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To help with further browsing click on the large ‘Initial’ to return to the Early Gospel Singers Introduction, or click another initial to take you to details of more early gospel singers.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Please Note:

As this is a continuously developing website, several entries only give the names with no biographical details. Please be patient as these entries are included for completeness, indicating the details are ‘coming soon’ and will be added when time allows.

If there are any early (pre war) gospel singers missing from the lists that you think should be included, please email the details to alan.white@earlygospel.com. Thank you in advance for your assistance.