Sunday, November 11, 2007

Go Out to the Dixie Mockingbirds' Programs?

The Dixie Hummingbirds:

Let's Go Out To The Programs

Let's Go Out To The Programs #2

The fact that the Dixie Hummingbirds were able to release a 75th anniversary CD in 2004 speaks volumes about the power and longevity of the legendary group, whose role in the development of gospel music cannot be underestimated. The group was at the peak of its power in the '50s and '60s, when the classic lineup - Ira Tucker and James Davis on leads, backed ably by Beachey Thompson, James Walker and William Bobo, who was probably only second to the Harmonizing Four's Jimmy Jones as the greatest bass singer of gospel's "Golden Age" - waxed classic after classic for Peacock. As a live act, their impressive showmanship influenced every other act around, and today's selections provide an example of such showmanship.

One of the Humminbirds' stage antics was their song "Let's Go Out To The Programs." The program was a common event on the "gospel highway," a church version of the "chitlin' circuit" R&B revues. Gospel audiences were provided a show packed with the top names in gospel for a relatively low price, and the acts competed to be the ones that could "wreck the house," sending audiences into religious frenzy. Fortunately, one great program is available for us to enjoy, Specialty's The Great 1955 Shrine Concert, which featured the Pilgrim Travelers, the Caravans, Brother Joe May, his daughter Annette, the Soul Stirrers, Ethel Davenport and Dorothy Love Coates and the Original Gospel Harmonettes. The Hummingbirds used "Let's Go Out To The Programs" as a showcase of the group's versatility, as they would perform a medley of tunes by their peers, imitating them so well that the Hummingbirds were occasionally referred to as the "Dixie Mockingbirds." I'm sure that the Hummingbirds drew cheers and laughs with this routine, and fortunately, two forms of it exist on wax for us to enjoy today.

The first "Let's Go Out To The Programs" was released on Peacock in 1953. After a nice ensemble vocal opening, the group tackled the Soul Stirrers, the Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Pilgrim Travelers and the Bells of Joy, singing snippets of each group's big records, bridged by James Davis' introductions. The group gets its "props" by closing the tune with a reprise of their own "Trouble In My Way." The tune was very successful, so the Hummingbirds went back to the well in 1959 with "Let's Go Out To The Programs #2." On this sequel, the group took a somewhat a tongue-in-cheek approach at recognizing members of the distaff side of the gospel spectrum. After reprising the closing line of the 1953 version and giving James Walker a short intro (in which he deadpanned "Mavis Staples can sing like a man"), the group took on Dorothy Love Coates & The Original Gospel Harmonettes, the Clara Ward Singers, the Caravans, the Davis Sisters and the Staple Singers, all in comic falsetto, before wrapping things up with a snippet of their 1957 gospel hit "Christian's Automobile."

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