The Soul StirrersBlack History Highlight

Here is a Gospel Music Trivia Question – What gospel quartet group recorded for the Library of Congress’s American Music Project in 1936? The Soul Stirrers.

In 1926, Roy Cain formed The Mount Pleasant Green Singers in Trinity, Texas. In the early 1930s, after Crain moved to Houston, 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. Harris, who soon became its musical leader. The Soul Stirrers formed as a Jubilee quartet, transformed their sound, influenced by many hard gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Rebert Harris, also from Trinity, Texas, brought several changes to the Soul Stirrers that affected gospel quartet singing generally. He used a 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; later groups would have as many as seven but still consider themselves “quartets”, which referred more to their style than their number.

The Soul Stirrers made other important changes: 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 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 recorded the Soul Stirrers for the Library of Congress’s American music project under the Aladdin Record label. They later moved to Chicago, where they broadcast a weekly radio show (WIND) with other famous groups including 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.

The Soul Stirrers signed with Specialty Records, where they recorded a number of tracks, including “By and By” and “In that Awful Hour“. Harris, the most popular member of the group, soon quit, however, in order to form a new group. He was briefly replaced on lead by Paul Foster, then by the unknown Sam Cooke.

The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 as one of rock’s Early Influences, the American Gospel Quartet Convention Hall of Fame in 1995, and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000.

Bio from Wikipedia, except were otherwise noted.