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The Soul Stirrers

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One of the preminent & most widely known gospel groups of the 20th century, founded in Texas in the late 1920’s. Early on the group was defined by the vocals of R.H Harris, and longtime member and actual group founder Roy Crain.

Alan Lomax recorded the group in 1936 for the US Library of Congress, but the group made many more recordings over the next several decades. These include notable releases on Art Rupe’s Specialty label, and some on former member Sam Cooke’s SAR label in the early 1960’s. Other former members include vocalists such as Johnnie Taylor,James Phelps, T.L. Bruster, Bob King and, briefly, Julius Cheeks.

They are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1989

One of the most popular and influential gospel groups of the 20th century, the Soul Stirrers were pioneers in the development of the quartet style of gospel and, without intending it, in the creation of soul music, the secular music that owed much to gospel.

The group was formed by Roy Crain, who had launched his first quartet, which sang in a jubilee style, in 1926 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.” Among the members of that group was R.H. Harris, who soon became its musical leader.

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.

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