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The Soul Stirrers were an American
gospel music Gospel music is a genre of Christian music Christian music is music Music is the art of arranging sounds in time to produce a composition through the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It is one of the universal cult ...
group, whose career spans over eighty years. The group was a pioneer in the development of the quartet style of gospel, and a major influence on
soul In many religious, philosophical, and myth Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. The main characters in myths are usually non-humans, such as ...

soul
,
doo wop Doo-wop (also spelled doowop and doo wop) is a genre of rhythm and blues Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B or R'n'B, is a genre of popular music Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large a ...
, and
Motown Motown Records is an American record label A record label, or record company, is a brand A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other seller ...
, some of the secular music that owed much to gospel.


Biography

The group was formed by (Silas) Roy Crain, launching his first quartet who sang in a
jubilee A jubilee is a particular anniversary An anniversary is the date on which an event took place or an institution was founded in a previous year, and may also refer to the commemoration or celebration of that event. For example, the first ev ...
style, in 1926 in
Trinity, Texas Trinity is a city in Trinity County, Texas Texas (, ) is a state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States. It is the second largest U.S. state by both List of U.S. states and territories by area, area (a ...
, United States. In the early 1930s, after Crain moved to
Houston Houston ( ) is the List of cities in Texas by population, most populous city in Texas, List of United States cities by population, fourth-most populous city in the United States, most populous city in the Southern United States, as well as th ...
, he joined an existing group on the condition that it change its name to "the Soul Stirrers". The name "Soul Stirrers" yields from the description of one of Roy Crain's earlier quartets as "soul-stirring." Among the members of that group was R.H. (Rebert) Harris, who soon became its musical leader. The Soul Stirrers, formed as a jubilee quartet, transformed their sound, influenced by hard gospel singers such as
Mahalia Jackson Mahalia Jackson ( ; born Mahala Jackson; October 26, 1911 – January 27, 1972) was an American gospel singer Gospel music is a genre of Christian music. The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of gospel music varies ...

Mahalia Jackson
and
Sister Rosetta Tharpe Sister Rosetta Tharpe (March 20, 1915 – October 9, 1973) was an American singer, songwriter A songwriter is a musician A musician is a person who Composer, composes, Conducting, conducts, or Performing arts, performs music. According to ...
. Rebert Harris, also from Trinity, Texas, brought several changes to the Soul Stirrers that affected
gospel quartet The term Gospel quartet refers to several different traditions of harmony In music, harmony is the process by which the composition of individual sounds, or superpositions of sounds, is analysed by hearing. Usually, this means simultaneously ...
singing generally. He used a
falsetto ''Falsetto'' (, ; Italian Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ** Italian language, a Romance language *** Regional Ital ...

falsetto
style that had its antecedents in African music, but which was new to the popular jubilee singing style of the time. He pioneered the "swing lead"---in which two singers would share the job of leading the song, allowing virtuoso singers to increase the emotional intensity of the song as the lead passed between them without disturbing the four part harmony. That innovation led the Soul Stirrers, while still called a quartet, to acquire five members. The Soul Stirrers made other important changes in those years: ad-libbing lyrics, singing in delayed time, and repeating words in the background as both a rhythmic and emotional support for the lead singers. The Soul Stirrers along with other quartet performers, dropped the "flatfooted" style of jubilee quartets before them and expanded their repertoire from
spirituals Spirituals (also known as Negro spirituals, Spiritual music, or African-American spirituals) is a genre of Christian music Christian music is music Music is the art of arranging sounds in time to produce a composition through the e ...
and traditional hymns to the newer gospel compositions. The group also loosened the rigid arrangements that jubilee quartets had favored to permit individual singers within the group more space for individual development. In 1936,
Alan Lomax Alan Lomax (; January 31, 1915 – July 19, 2002) was an American ethnomusicologist Ethnomusicology is the study of music from the cultural and social aspects of the people who make it. It encompasses distinct theoretical and methodical a ...

Alan Lomax
recorded the Soul Stirrers for the
Library of Congress The Library of Congress (LC) is the research library A library is a collection of materials, books or media that are easily accessible for use and not just for display purposes. It is responsible for housing updated information in order ...

Library of Congress
's American music project, and those four unissued recordings are in the
American Folklife Center The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress The Library of Congress (LC) is the research library A library is a collection of materials, books or media that are easily accessible for use and not just for display purposes. ...
collection today. They later moved to
Chicago (''City in a Garden''); I Will , image_map = , map_caption = Interactive map of Chicago , coordinates = , coordinates_footnotes = , subdivision_type = Country , subdivision_name ...

Chicago
, where they broadcast a weekly radio show (WIND) with other famous groups including The Golden Gate Quartet, Golden Gate Quartet and The Famous Blue Jay Singers. As the gospel quartet style of singing became more popular, groups would perform in competitions called "song battles" to further increase the genre's popularity. As World War II began, it became more difficult for many gospel quartet groups to make a living. It resulted in some quartets supplementing their income by doing live performances at churches, schools, and neighborhood centers. Despite the economic situation, throughout the 1940s and leading into the 1950s, many gospel quartet groups were able to pursue their careers successfully. The Soul Stirrers' nationwide touring gained them an even larger audience. The Soul Stirrers signed with Specialty Records, where they recorded a number of tracks, including "By and By" and "In That Awful Hour". Harris quit in late 1950 to form a new group, citing dissatisfaction with what he viewed as the crookedness of the business and immoral behavior by musicians he saw on the "Gospel Highway" touring circuit. He was briefly replaced on lead by Paul Foster, then by Sam Cooke. Cooke joined the group at 19 and served as lead vocalist from 1950 to 1956. One of the early singles with Cooke was "Jesus Gave Me Water", a major hit that brought the Soul Stirrers acclaim. Thomas L. Breuster was replaced by Bob King and, briefly, Julius Cheeks. When Cooke left in 1957 to pursue a career in pop music, the Soul Stirrers' preeminence in gospel was essentially over, though a brief period of success with Johnnie Taylor sustained the group for a time. The group made several appearances performing on TV Gospel Time in early 1960s. Various line-ups continued touring and recording throughout the last half of the century to a small and devoted following. The group — and all of its members — was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 as one of rock's 'Early Influences', and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000.


References


Further reading

*Tony Heilbut, ''The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times''. Limelight Editions, 1997, . *Horace Clarence Boyer, ''How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel''. Elliott and Clark, 1995, . *Jerry Zolten, ''Great God A' Mighty!:The Dixie Hummingbirds - Celebrating The Rise Of Soul Gospel Music,'' Oxford University Press, 2003, . *Michael Corcoran, "All Over The Map: True Heroes of Texas Music". Austin: University of Texas, 2005. *Peter Guralnick, "Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke". New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005. *Rachel Rubin ed., "American Popular Music". Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2001. *Daniel Wolff, "You Send Me". New York: William Morrow and Company, 1995. *Mark Burford, "Soul Stirrers" in ''Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music''. New York: Routledge, 2005.


External links


Vocal Group Hall of Fame page on The Soul Stirrers
{{DEFAULTSORT:Soul Stirrers, (The) Musical groups established in 1926 American gospel musical groups Christian rhythm and blues groups Gospel quartets Imperial Records artists Specialty Records artists Sam Cooke People from Trinity, Texas