GOGR Music History -
The Statesmen Quartet
It is no secret that my favorite quartet of all time is the Statesmen
Quartet. I've been waiting to do a history of this group until I had the opportunity to do it well. There is no way I can document the history of the
Statesmen Quartet in one monthly column, so this will be the first installment of a multi-part series.
Hovie Lister was a member of some of the finest groups in gospel music during the 1940s. He spent time with many groups including the Sand Mountain Quartet, the Rangers Quartet, the LeFevres, and the Homeland Harmony Quartet. During that time, Hovie was quite observant. He realized that gospel music was in need of change if it was going to expand its boundaries. Hovie set out to form a quartet that would take the world of gospel music to new heights. He wanted to form the perfect quartet. He had a vision, and that vision became the Statesmen Quartet.
Hovie Lister was known as the first gospel music disc jockey. He realized the importance of a radio station to a gospel quartet. When Hovie found out that Major Howell, Chairman of the Board of the Atlanta Constitution, planned to start radio station WCON in Atlanta, Hovie requested air time for
his radio program as well as his new quartet. Not only did Mr. Howell give Hovie the air time he requested, but he agreed to pay each member of the Statesmen Quartet $50 apiece. This fee was unheard of at this time, so Hovie took that as a sign from God and quickly began assembling his new quartet.
Major Howell was convinced by Hovie's sales ability that they would have a quartet on the air in a few short weeks. In the mean time, Hovie would take up the slack by playing gospel records on his radio program. His "Adams Motor Company Time" radio program featured recordings by all of the great quartets of that era. He continued this program long after the Statesmen Quartet became a reality.
David Carpenter, general manager of WCON, played a role in the decision to bring this new quartet to the air waves. Marvin Spivey was another figure that was instrumental in helping Hovie organize the quartet and then distribute their transcribed programs to radio stations throughout the Southeast United States.
Hovie had several singers in mind when he began putting the pieces of the Statesmen into place. Few folks were paying their singers as much as Hovie could offer, so he was able to turn a few heads. Songwriter Mosie Lister was living in Atlanta, so Hovie approached him about being the lead singer of his new quartet. Mosie, who was not related to Hovie, had experience with several major quartets including the famous Melody Masters Quartet. Mosie brought with him some great original compositions as well as superb abilities as an arranger. Bobby Strickland was a quartet veteran who knew Hovie quite well. Hovie and Bobby performed together in the Sand Mountain Quartet. Hovie told Bobby to come to Atlanta and bring a baritone and bass with him! Bobby brought quartet veterans Bervin Kendricks and Gordon Hill with him to Atlanta. Bervin had sung with the Radioaires Quartet from Topeka, Kansas and Gordon was a veteran of the All American Quartet. When the Statesmen Quartet debuted on WCON radio in October of 1948, the group consisted of Bobby Strickland, Mosie Lister, Bervin Kendricks, Gordon Hill, and Hovie Lister.
Mosie was the first to depart the quartet, yet his influence with the Statesmen lasted for many years thereafter. Mosie was first and foremost a songwriter, and he and the Statesmen had an excellent working relationship for many years. Many of the Statesmen Quartet's top songs were from the pen of Mosie Lister. He also did much of the arranging for the quartet in the early years.
Interestingly enough, the gentleman chosen to replace Mosie in the Statesmen was the same person that replaced him in the Melody Masters Quartet -- Jake Hess. Jake had been a member of several quartets prior to joining the Melody Masters, and he was slowly making a name for himself in the gospel music circles. It was difficult for Jake to leave this successful quartet to join 21-year-old Hovie Lister in his new quartet, but it was a decision that changed the world of gospel music for many years to come.
The Statesmen became quite active in the gospel music industry. Their transcribed radio programs were distributed to more than twenty radio stations throughout the Southeast. The Statesmen Quartet was also quite active on the concert circuit as news of their talents spread. Gordon Hill was the next singer to leave the quartet. He was replaced by Aycel Soward. Soward was the first bass singer Hovie chose to sing in the Statesmen, but circumstances prevented him joining the group in the beginning even though he was in the first publicity picture of the quartet.
Soward had been a member of several other outstanding groups including the Harmoneers and the Homeland Harmony Quartet. He had worked with Bobby Strickland in the Harmoneers and was known as one of the premier bass singers in gospel music. He had a very cultured voice with perfect diction. His biggest drawback was that although he was solid, he was not flashy. Hovie desired a rhythm bass singer that would delight the crowd with his performances. Soward's replacement, James S. Wetherington, turned out to be just that individual.Shortly before A.D. Soward left the Statesmen, they signed a recording contract with Capitol Records. Capitol was a young company at the time located in the Atlanta area. Instead of recording in a studio, the Statesmen made their first recordings at WCON. When Hovie made the decision to change bass singers, he hired James S.
Wetherington. Wetherington and Jake Hess had become friends during their association with the Melody Masters Quartet. Wetherington joined Jake in the Statesmen Quartet, and Hovie's dream of having the perfect quartet was one step closer to reality.
After a few weeks with the quartet, James S. Wetherington was dubbed "Big Chief" by Lee Roy Abernathy. He kept that moniker until his death in 1973. Many people may not know James S. Wetherington, but they certainly know the Big Chief. Soon, the Statesmen Quartet was the most recognized group on the gospel music circuit. They were heard on the radio twice daily and their photographs were in the Atlanta Constitution almost every day. The demand for their personal appearances grew by leaps and bounds. They had a limited area in which they could perform and still make the morning radio programs in a timely manner. Most of their early appearances were limited to Georgia and the surrounding southern states.
The quartet composed of Strickland, Hess, Kendricks, Wetherington, and Lister remained intact through the summer of 1950. During this time, they recorded over a dozen songs for Capitol records in addition to many transcribed radio programs. Circumstances led Bobby Strickland to leave the Statesmen Quartet on September 1, 1950. After leaving the Statesmen, Strickland followed the lead of Hovie Lister. He moved to Birmingham, Alabama and formed the Crusaders Quartet with the help of the aforementioned Marvin Spivey.
Three members of the Melody Masters Quartet were reunited when Hovie hired C.G. ("Cat") Freeman to replace Bobby Strickland. Freeman, brother of Vestal Goodman, was also a seasoned quartet veteran. He left the Blackwood Brothers to join his fellow Melody Masters alumni in the Statesmen Quartet. Cat had a strong voice and soon became the clown of the Statesmen Quartet.
Uncle Sam soon came calling and Hovie Lister was the next person to leave the Statesmen Quartet. During his absence, Big Chief Wetherington took over the management of the quartet resulting in several other personnel changes. The most significant of these involved hiring Doy Ott to replace Hovie Lister as pianist for the Statesmen. During this time, Boyce Hawkins, Troy Posey, and Earl Terry all filled positions within the quartet awaiting the return of Hovie Lister. Bervin Kendricks left the Statesmen to join his friend Bobby Strickland in the Crusaders Quartet.
When Hovie returned from military service, he moved back to the piano bench, and Doy Ott became the baritone for the group. This was a position he held for many years. Doy was an excellent musician, and was responsible for many of the famous arrangements made popular by the quartet.
The Statesmen Quartet rehearsed their music for hours on end. They had a theory not that practice makes perfect . . . rather that perfect practice makes perfect. They polished their arrangements, their harmonies, their diction, their phrasing, their enunciation, their dynamics, and their presentation until their sound equaled perfection.
Recordings of the Statesmen Quartet from that era showed the improvement they experienced as they grew together as a unit. In addition to their records, they continued to prepare their transcribed radio programs. Many of these programs were done on the fly with very little rehearsal time, so their abilities as musicians were paramount in keeping the music fresh for their listeners.
The Statesmen drew their material from many sources including hymnals and
current convention song books. Much of their material came from the current
writers of the day such as Mosie Lister and Vep Ellis. However, many of their biggest songs were drawn from black gospel groups of the day. The
Statesmen Quartet was one of the first groups to incorporate black spirituals into their repertoire. Hits such as "You Sho Do Need Him Now,"
"Talk About Jesus," "I Don't Want this Modern Religion," and one of their most famous songs, "Get Away Jordan" all came from black
artists of the day.
In four short years, Hovie Lister had assembled the most popular quartet ever to grace a gospel music stage. The Statesmen Quartet embraced dignity, showmanship, excitement, and talent into one dynamic package. They had outstanding material, intricate arrangements, and superior voices. Couple that with Hovie Lister's leadership and dramatic emcee techniques, Georgia's Ambassadors of Goodwill became the hottest act on the gospel music circuit.
I hope you will join me next month as we continue with the story of the Statesmen Quartet. Your comments are appreciated, and I welcome your questions. Please send your questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The 60's brought the Statesmen to the Masonic Temple in Detroit. I might have been all of 16 years old then and I've loved Hovie Lister ever since. The Holy Spirit would annoint on Hovie and the rest of the Statesmen and the entire auditorium would just come alive!! My cousins were all enamored with Mylon LeFevre at one of those singing conventions. Not me.. I had to meet Hovie Lister... and I did!! We wandered around the temple and found ourselves back stage. I walked up to him and I coulnd't speak, I just shook his hand and nodded my head and tried not to faint!! I drive with Hovie everyday - the car stereo is blastin and I'm clappin' and shoutin' just like I did 40 years ago. My mom had THE VOICE in our family and we were raised on southern gospel music. I learned to play the piano listening to the Statesmen. Yes, we loved the Blackwood Brothers too, but they didn't have Hovie, and Doyle and Big Chief. To me, there will never be another group like or as good as the Statesmen. Hovie lives on in my heart and the music of the Statesment still sends the Power of God all over the house!!!
Thanks, John, for writing this great series. I can't get enough of the Statesmen. They are the greatest group to ever sing gospel music, and they may be the best there ever will be to sing it as well.
I used to attend Gospel Concerts in Valdosta Georgia in the early 50's and the Statesmen were there on many occassions. They were by far my favorite and true professionals for sure. You have a very nice web site. Keep up the good work.
Just happened on to your site.I have been a follower of the Statesmen beginning in the 1950's.I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Jake and Hovey.Jake knew all the albums by number. When Jake,James Blackwood,J.D. and Steve Warren were The Masters 5,I had a radio interview with all of them in a small control room in Austin,Tx on KLBJ.That was an unforgetable experience. We talked about the favorite albums.Jake's favorite was "The Bible Told Me So".Denver Crumpler was singing his beautiful hi-tenor on that one,and oddly enough,songs most requested on "Hymns We Love" were from that album.Up until about 12 years ago,I had all of the albums the Statesmen ever recorded,they were lost in a fire. Please E-Mail me and we can discuss the state of Southern Gospel.Bet Gaither is ringing his hands because the last of the best went home last week.No one can fill thier shoes.
John,I never cared for history in school but with all the memories and facts you come up with would make anyones interest grow and of course I like anything to do with gospel music and especially about the most polished quartet that ever came on stage, The Statesmen Quartet! Waiting for next month!
John,A Great article and I am kooking forward to the next one. I hope it will be as informative as this and I'm sure it will.
John, if Southern Gospel Music had it's own university, you'd definitely be head of the history department! Keep up the great work!
SUPER ARTICLE, JOHN.... I KNEW THE ORGINAL BASS SINGER, GORDON HILL, VERY WELL WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER... I ENJOYED THE WRITE-UP VERY MUCH.... AND WILL LOOK FORWARD TO THE FOLLOWING INSTALLMENTS.... I WAS JUST LISTENING TODAY TO AND OLD ALBUM I ACQUIRED ON E-BAY.... THIS IS THE SKYLITE STATESMEN ALBUM.."NEW SOUNDS TODAY"... THE GROUP IS COMPOSED OF SHAUN (OR SHERRILL) NEILSON... JIM HILL, DOY, AND CHIEF... I'M NOT SURE I'D EVER HEARD THIS PARTICULAR PERSONNEL TOGETHER BEFORE... I WAS NOT ONLY SINGING IN THOSE DAYS..(BOTH GOSPEL AND COUNTRY).... I WAS WORKING AS A RADIO NEWS ANCHOR AND REPORTER...OFTEN COVERING POLITICS, SO I WASN'T FOLLOWING THE QUARTET SCENE AT LARGE AS MUCH AS I HAD IN THE PAST... I KNEW JIM HILL WHEN HE SANG WITH J.D. AND THE STAMPS... AND I SANG BRIEFLY WITH SHERRILL IN THE PLAINSMEN.... AGAIN: I'LL LOOK FORWARD TO THE NEXT INSTALLMENTS...
Thanks, Norm. That indeed is my plan for this series. This looks to be the most challenging project I have attempted. I trust it will do justice to Hovie Lister and the Statesmen Quartet.
Great to see you are starting a series on the Statesmen. I love reading about them and trust your series will take us through the 70s and later deal with the various revivals of the great group.
Jan, the main GOGR web site has a video about Rosie Rozell. You may want to check it out. If you would like to email me privately, I may be able to help you locate other recordings by Rosie. http://www.grandolegospelreunion.com/special_tributes.htm
We agree, we have been Statemen fans for years, the greatest Quartet ever in singing, arranging and showmenship. We are Rosie Rozelle fans and would like to find a video of him somewhere or a tape of his songs, where could we find these?
The overall mould of what a male quartet should be, was the Statesmen. From the arrangements, voice blend to stage presence, they would be unequaled. Wonderful history on a wonderful singing group.
John, you continue to bring top shelf history reporting and this time you've started a series on the "THE" gospel quartet of all time. Thanks much.
John, Thanks so much for part 1 on the greatest quartet to ever sing gospel music. Dean
John, thank you so much for this wonderful article on my favorite group of all times! I am so pleased that you decided to take on this monumental task. I had never seen the picture of the Quartet from the days when Hovie was in the service. Thank you for your dedication and professionalism in perserving the history of "our" music!
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