The Dixie Hummingbirds
Thank You For One More Day (The 70th Anniversary of the Dixie Hummingbirds)
Peacock Gospel Classics
The Dixie Hummingbirds are in turn one of the most underappreciated and most influential groups working today. The original group started out in 1928 in Greenville, SC, when a group of neighborhood teenagers began singing at the Bethel Church of God. They sang the old spirituals sweet and staid in the a cappella harmony tradition. Originally known as the Sterling High School Quartet, they turned professional and adopted their current moniker in the ’30s. They called themselves the Hummingbirds because “that was the only bird that could fly backwards and forwards, and that was how our career seemed to be going at the time,” to quote then-leader James Davis.
The Hummingbirds first gained recognition with their release of “Joshua Journeyed to Jericho,” on the Decca label in 1939. In 1952, they signed to Don Robey’s Houston, Texas Peacock label. By this time, they were already professionals and were moving in the direction of Jubilee and Hard Gospel singing. Peacock had already experienced some success in this area through their promotion of the Five Blind Boys and the Bells of Joy. The Hummingbirds were sure that they would follow suit, and they did. They have never been million sellers, but have always been big concert draws and have played at numerous festivals, including the Newport Jazz Festival in 1966.
The Dixie Hummingbirds were rare, in that they considered themselves a quartet, yet they had five members, representing four-part harmony, while always supporting the lead vocalist. The Hummingbirds have been a big influence on many groups over the years, including Gospel groups such as the Oak Ridge Boys, who pretty much patterned themselves after the Hummingbirds in their format and willingness to do classic material.
Their most well-known hit, “Loves Me Like a Rock,” was later re-recorded with Paul Simon. They won a Grammy for this 1973 recording. In my mind, the original recording of this song (included as the lead track on this release) totally eclipses the later recording in intensity. Some of these songs probably rocked a little too hard to set well with some fans of Gospel music, especially the white ones. “In The Morning” is a very intense and very powerful rockabilly-flavored boogie-woogie song that could damn near wake the dead. “Ezekial Saw The Wheel” is one of the finest a cappella recordings ever made. “Christians Automobile” likens the importance of maintaining the soul to the maintenance of a car. “Bedside of a Neighbor,” “If Anybody Asks You,” and “You Don’t Have Nothing” all stand tall as very powerful and very influential songs, even if you discount the spiritual message.
The Stax-Volt legend wouldn’t be what it is without the influence of groups like this. The blues played a big part in the formation of rock and roll and R&B, but while the blues can be boring and repetitive at times, this stuff never is. Unlike a lot of our latter-day “Divas” and “Soul Singers,” these guys are never over-the-top. The Hummingbirds take you right to the edge and pull you back just in time, always leaving you wanting a little more. This may very well be the best introduction to Gospel music that a non-Gospel music fan could start with. I very highly recommend it.