Early Gospel Singers – D

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Name: Daniels-Deason Sacred Harp Singers
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Biography Synopsis: Unaccompanied vocal quartet (three men and one woman). Personnel unknown.
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Name: Theodore Roosevelt Darby
Aka: “Blind Teddy Darby”, “Blind Darby”, “Blind Blues Darby” and “Blind Squire Turner”
Location: St Louis
Born: Henderson, Kentucky, 2nd March 1906
Died: East St Louis, Ill, December 1975
Biography Synopsis: Teddy Darby was born in Henderson, Kentucky, but his family moved to St. Louis while he was still a child. His mother taught him to play the guitar, but he was more inclined toward bootlegging. He spent a year in a reformatory and later another year in the city workhouse – both sentences were for selling moonshine. In 1926 Darby lost his eyesight because of glaucoma. Soon after going blind, he took up the guitar again. By the late twenties, he was a mainstay of the local blues scene. He moved to East St. Louis and began a longtime association with Peetie Wheatstraw, backing him on guitar when Charley Jordan was unavailable.

Darby renounced the blues for the church in the late 1930s. We called him “Preacher Darby” said Henry Brown. He remained in East St. Louis and became an ordained deacon at the King Solomon Holy House of Prayer.

Recording career: 1929 – 1937
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Name: Rev. Gary Davis
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Name: Deacon Leon Davis
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Name: Walter Davis
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Name: Blind Willie Davis
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Name: Rev. W. M. McKinley Dawkins
Location: Dallas, Texas
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Biography Synopsis: Sermons with singing; with piano by Prof. J. H. Cousins
Recording career: 1925
Most popular song(s): Complete recorded works:

Nothin’ between

I Want to see my Jesus

Someday He’ll Make Plain To Me

Just Outside The Door

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Name: The Deep River Songbirds
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Location: Cleveland, Ohio
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Biography Synopsis: All female group comprising: Ruth Wallace, Cornell Thompson, Beatrice Addie, Josaphine Wilkes, Primel Wilkes, and Eloise Burnett.
Recording career: 1940s – 1950s
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References / links: ‘Cleveland’s Gospel Music’, Frederick Burton, Arcadia Publishing 2003
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Name: Delta Big Four
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Name: Rev. Emmet(t) Dickinson
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Name: Dinwiddie Colored Quartet
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Name: Dixie Hummingbirds
Location: Philadelphia
Biography Synopsis: 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.

Biography by Jason Ankeny, Source: AllMusic.com

Recording career: Late ’30s – present
Most popular song(s): “Joshua Journeyed to Jericho”

“Loves Me Like A Rock”

“Amazing Grace” (Grammy Award)

References / links: Video: The Dixie Hummingbirds: 80 Years Young

The first feature length documentary/concert film featuring the life and history of the Dixie Hummingbirds was released in 2008 in commemoration of their extraordinary eighty years as performers. Produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Jeff Scheftel, and Executive produced by University of Hawaii Musicologist Jay Junker, featuring extensive interviews with Ira Tucker, Sr., archival footage, and following the current group as they perform in numerous venues, and rehearse under Mr. Tucker’s spirited guidance, in their hometown of Philadelphia, and across the vast landscape of America.

Source: Gospel Music Hall of Fame

National Endowment for the Arts  – recipients of a National Heritage Fellowship

Gospel Music Hall of Fame – 2008 Inductees

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Name: Dixie Sacred Trio
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Name: Dixie Symphony Four
Aka: Dixie Symphony Singers
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Recording career: Some time between 1929 – 1934
Most popular song(s): Six recorded works:

Swanee River

Little David Play on your Harp

Good News, The Chariot’s Coming

Leaning on The Lord

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Sweet Kentucky Babe

References / links: Essay: History & Mystery (a long shot in early blues & gospel)
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Name: Calvin P. Dixon
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References / links: Discography of American Historical Recordings
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Name: Rev. Mose Doolittle
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Name: Thomas A. Dorsey (‘Georgia Tom’)
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Name: Arizona Juanita Dranes
Aka: Also known as “Blind Arizona”. Her correct last name has been reported as “Drane”, as listed in the official enrolment record for the 1896-1897 school year at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (but was this just a miss-spelling?).
Location: Oklahoma City and Dallas, TX
Born: 4th April 1891 (or 1894), Greenville (or Sherman or Dallas), TX
Died: 27th July 1963, Los Angeles
Biography Synopsis: Arizona Juanita Dranes, of mixed African-American and Mexican-American heritage, was born on April 4, 1894, in Greenville, Texas. Her mother was Cora Jones, and her father’s surname was Dranes. She lost her sight in an influenza outbreak early in her childhood. She attended the Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind Colored Youths (later Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School) in Austin from 1896 until 1910, when she graduated. There she received her first music lessons. Some years after graduation, perhaps about 1920, she helped Ford Washington McGee (Rev. F.W. McGee), a singing preacher, establish a Church of God in Christ in Oklahoma City . She later lived in the musically rich Deep Ellum district of Dallas, where she learned piano and developed her own distinct “sanctified” style of playing, known as “gospel beat.” It combined the ragtime and barrelhouse traditions to produce a rolling blues sound. Dranes’s piano playing was accompanied by her penetrating singing, which derived from the emotional shout song of traditional gospel music.

Eventually she became a regular pianist and singer for various traveling ministers of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC ), a national black Pentecostal church that has since developed into the largest of its kind. Dranes spent much of this early period with COGIC traveling through Texas and Oklahoma and aiding in the “planting” of new churches. In the mid-1920s she settled back in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and was soon spotted by OKeh Record Company scout Richard M. Jones. The company took Dranes to Chicago for recording sessions in 1926 and again held sessions in Dallas in 1928. [In 1926 recording sessions she was supported by the Rev. F.W. McGee and His Jubilee Choir. Rev. McGee himself went on to become a popular recording artist for Victor and he had Dranes to thank for this.] During her contract with OKeh she recorded more than thirty tracks, including such gospel standouts as “I Shall Wear a Crown” and “My Soul Is a Witness for the Lord.” Though she was a top gospel star for the OKeh label, correspondence between Dranes and the record executives indicate that she was often underpaid.

With the onset of the Great Depression, Blind Arizona Dranes fell into obscurity. She continued her performances in church services and may have lived in Memphis and possibly Oklahoma City in the 1930s. Her last known public concert was held in Cincinnati in 1947. In 1948 she moved to Los Angeles, where she lived until her death on July 27, 1963. Her death certificate listed her profession as a missionary and that she was buried at the Paradise Memorial Park in Santa Fe Springs, California. She was one of the most influential and innovative gospel pianists of the twentieth century.
– Bradley Shreve, “DRANES, ARIZONA JUANITA [BLIND ARIZONA],” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fdr16), accessed June 21, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Recording career: 1926 – 1928
Most popular song(s): “I Shall Wear a Crown”, “My Soul Is a Witness for the Lord” and
“He Is My Story”
Musical Influences: Later gospel artists, such as Roberta Martin, Clara Ward, Madame Ernestine B Washington and Goldia Haynes, were heavily influenced by her piano playing and her nasal singing style also had an impact on artists such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
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Name: Dunham Jubilee Singers
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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.