Delta Rhythm Boys ©JCMarion
The Delta Rhythm Boys had their beginnings at Oklahoma's Langston University in the mid 1930s. They were a polished vocal ensemble that traveled much of the world and recorded without great success for Decca Records for much of the 1940s with the exception of "Just A-Sittin' And A-Rockin'" and "Dry Bones". The group consisted of Lee Gaines, Carl Jones, Kelsey Pharr, and Traverse Crawford. In 1949 the group made the first of many trips to Europe where they have maintained great popularity. During this time the Delta Rhythm Boys recorded a few sides for R & B giant-to-be Atlantic Records. These were "Don't Ask Me Why" / "I Can Hardly Wait" (some copies of this recording were issued as by The Four Sharps); "Sweetheart of Mine" / "The Laughs On Me"; "I'll Come Back Someday" / "Why" (both sides backing Ruth Brown); and "If You See Tears In My Eyes" / "Noboby Knows" and one side "Sentimental Journey" again with Ruth Brown. None of these sides did much to dent the sales charts and radio play was also minimal.
By February of 1950, the group left Atlantic Records and signed on with major label Decca once again. Meanwhile Atlantic releases all of their recordings with Ruth Brown. In late spring the Deltas leave for an extended tour of Western Europe. After their return the group has a long engagement at Chicago's Blue Note. For over a year there are no new recordings by the group except for sporadic reissues by Atlantic. A number of sides are released by Mercury in 1952, but their best effort is a RCA reissue of "I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive" / "I'm Used To You". Atlantic once again keeps the Deltas name in the public eye by re-releasing two songs they did with Ruth Brown - "Sentimental Journey" / "It's All In Your Mind" in early 1954. The group appears in a Rock and Roll film in October of 1955. The film is called "Rock and Roll Revue" and is done by Studio Films. It features The Clovers, Ruth Brown, Larry Darnell, and Joe Turner. There is a follow up film planned called "Rhythm & Blues Revue", and besides the Delta Rhythm Boys, the movie will feature Faye Adams, The Larks, Amos Milburn, as well as Joe Turner and Ruth Brown. Both pictures are low budget affairs shot in black & white, but the exploding popularity of the music gives the producers hopes for a seven figure gross in the United States.
Once the rock and roll era had really settled in, The Delta Rhythm Boys cashed in on their continuing popularity in Europe and even made their homes there. They were enormously popular in France and soon recorded exclusively for French Barclay Records. After years of popularity abroad, founding member Lee Gaines died in 1987 more than fifty years after the group's founding. One last strange part of the legend of the Deltas, was the eulogy sung at Lee Gaines funeral by Hugh Bryant. As soon as Bryant ended the last note, he dropped dead on the spot. With this event, more than a half century of music by the Delta Rhythm Boys came to an end.
Jay Warner in his book "American Singing Groups : A History 1940-1990", makes the case that the Delta Rhythm Boys appeared in more motion pictures (15) than any other singing group. They were around for more than fifty years but achieved only one chart hit. And yet they are a part of the progression of the development of the R & B vocal group, one of the transition groups that bridged the gap between the Mills Brothers and the doowop kings of the 1950s.
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