The Soul Stirrers
No gospel quartet has been as influential, nor has lasted longer, than the Soul Stirrers. The original group was formed in Trinity, Texas, in 1926. In 1937, a year after making their recording debut in Austin for the Library of Congress, they added a fifth member, R.H. Harris. He moved the Soul Stirrers, who soon relocated to Chicago, away from the old-fashioned jubilee style into modern gospel. He also introduced the concept of having a second lead singer, which enabled the other singers to maintain four-part harmony behind the alternating leads. With Harris at the helm—his sometimes sweet, sometimes gritty tenor often phrasing in delayed time—the five-member “quartet” became a major gospel attraction during the 1940s and recording for Ebony, Aladdin, Specialty, and other labels.
In 1950, a year after the Soul Stirrers had signed with Specialty, Harris quit. Sam Cooke, a 19-year-old tenor, was recruited to split leads with baritone Paul Foster, who’d joined in 1949. At first Cooke often sounded like Harris, but he quickly developed a unique style. “He made a change in the yodel,” Harris explained. “See, the yodel is originally mine, but he perfected another sound and that’s the thing that really made a difference between him and myself.”
Cooke left in 1957 to perform secular music and was replaced briefly by Little Johnny Jones, then by Johnnie Taylor, who stayed two years. The Soul Stirrers left Specialty in 1959 and began recording for Cooke’s new SAR label. Later lead singers included Jimmy Outler, James Davis, and Willie Rogers. The group split into two factions in the Seventies. The Original Soul Stirrers, led by Rogers, and the Soul Stirrers of Chicago, led by Arthur Crume, remain active on the gospel circuit.