Soul Stirrers Biography

One of gospel’s renowned vocal groups, the Soul Stirrers first performed in the early 30s, but their ascendancy began the following decade under the leadership of Robert H. Harris aka Rebert H. Harris (1926, Trinity, Texas, USA, d. 3 September 2000). The group was formed by Silas Roy Crain (b. 1911, Texas, USA, d. 14 September 1996), who was joined in the classic early line-up by Harris, Jesse J. Farley (bass), T.L. Bruster (baritone) and James Medlock (second lead). The latter was soon replaced by Paul Foster (d. 20 August 1995). The group earned their reputation on the road, and by the 40s the Soul Stirrers had established themselves as one of America’s leading vocal groups. Eschewing the accustomed quartet format, Harris introduced the notion of a fifth member, a featured vocalist, thus infusing a greater flexibility without undermining traditional four-part harmonies.

The group recorded several sides for Specialty Records in 1950, but Harris left the same year, tiring of what he perceived as non-spiritual influences. His replacement was Sam Cooke, late of the Highway QCs. Cooke’s silky delivery brought the group an even wider appeal, while his compositions, including ‘Nearer To Thee’ and ‘Touch The Hem Of His Garment’, anticipated the styles he would follow on embracing secular music in 1956. Further line-up changes saw guitarist and baritone Bob King replacing Bruster in 1953, and Julius Cheeks briefly joining the ranks. Cooke’s replacement, Johnnie Taylor, was also drawn from the ranks of the Highway QCs. The newcomer bore an obvious debt to the former singer as the group’s work on Cooke’s SAR label attested.

Taylor also embarked on a solo career, but the Stirrers continued to record throughout the 60s with Willie Rogers, Martin Jacox and Richard Miles assuming the lead role in turn. Like the Staple Singers before them, the veteran group latterly began to include material regarded as inspirational (for example ‘Let It Be’), as opposed to strictly religious. In the late 80s and early 90s UK Ace released a series of fine CD reissues of Specialty material, chiefly featuring Sam Cooke as lead singer. The 1998 release Lotto Man was an original album featuring long-time vocalist Leroy Crume.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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