The Gospel HarmonettesBlack History Highlight

Here is a Gospel Music Trivia Question – What group performed on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts Show in 1948? The Gospel Harmonettes.

In 1940, Mildred Madison (Mildred Howard), Odessa Edwards, and Evelyn Starks Hardy came together to form the group, The Gospel Harmonettes. Other original members were Vera Kalb, and Willie May Newberry Garth. Initially the group was called the Harmoneers. And, later the Lee Harmoneers. By the time Dorothy Love Coates joined the group in 1947, they were known as The Gospel Harmonettes.

They were one of the first all-women gospel singing groups to sign a national recording contract, the Harmonettes were fronted by Dorothy Love Coates and toured the country for more than three decades, played at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater and Madison Square Garden, recorded on RCA and Specialty Records, and left a legacy of classic songs that are still sung in churches around the world.

“A turning point for the Harmonettes came in 1947, when Hardy suggested Coates join them as lead singer after hearing the future star on a Birmingham radio program. Hardy said she was lying in bed and sat straight up when she heard Coates sing and decided it was the voice they needed to give the Harmonettes an extra push.” All Music Guide

They traveled the “gospel highway” from church to church and town to town, all through the South, Midwest, and in such northern cities as Philadelphia, New York, and Newark. In 1959, they began recording for Savoy Records in Newark. In 1961, the group, which adjusted its membership to include Cleo Kennedy, recorded for Savoy, and then in 1964 for Vee-Jay, an affiliation that lasted until 1968, when they did a few songs for Okeh/Columbia (including the remarkable “Strange Man”) and made some discs for Nashboro. Neither Coates nor her group recorded since about 1970, although Coates was intermittently active in live performance during subsequent years.

Ms. Coates has been described as being as almost preaching when she sang. It is no doubt with her fronting The Gospel Harmonettes, they became one of the great gospel quartet groups of the golden era of gospel music. Ms. Coates died on April 9, 2002.

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Ms. Hardy recently published an autobiography that includes the history of The Gospel Harmonettes. It is titled The Sweetest Harmony.