It has been four centuries since the black man first began to sing his songs in a strange land. That strange land became the United States of America. History has recorded many changes in his song as it moved from its African moorings toward a genuinely African-American music, contributing to a wide variety of genres, styles, forms, and performance practices.
The enduring feature of black music is neither protest nor self expression; it is communication. It is improbable that the time will ever come when black musicians will have nothing to say to their fellowmen or to thier GOD. His well of creativity will not run dry in spite of the absorption of his music into American and world music.
Male singing groups have held an important place in the preservation of black music. It was through group singing that talented black musicians, instrumentalists and singers, were able to display their communication skills when classical arenas of expression were denied them. Their Performances spread from the formal concert halls to the churches in the form of gospel music.
The Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers, of Covington, Kentucky, are an example in a long line of church group singers. The all-male "gospel/quintet" which consisted of five to six singers, dressed in business suits and sang a cappella in barbershop "harmonizing" style.
The oldest of the permanent groups was called The Dixie Hummingbirds. They were organized in 1928 and have a repertory and style that changed over the years from spirituals, jubilees, and hymns sung in close harmony, a cappella style, to gospel that reflected the influence of rock music with the addition of guitar accompaniment. Ira Tucker and James Walker wrote much of the music that "The Birds", as they were affectionately called, sang.
The Soul Stirrers, organized in 1935 were the first to add a fifth man to the quartet, thus providing four-part harmony support for the lead singer, the first to use guitar accompaniment; and the first to give concerts consisting solely of gospel music. Their most celebrated members were Robert Harris and Sam Cooke.
In the Southern part of the United States, there were the Five Blind Boys of Alabama; The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi; The Heavenly Gospel Singers of Spartansburg, South Carolina; The Norfolk, Virginia Jubilee Singers; The Selah Jubilee Singers of Texas;
and the ubiquitous Golden Jubilee Singers, among many others. In Black communities across the United States,
quartets and quintets were organized and performed in churches, concert halls, lodges, museums and anywhere else they could to express their interpretation of the "good news".
In Covington, Kentucky, among the well-known groups here is The Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers, the only a cappella group in the Kentucky State Folk Arts Program, of the Kentucky Arts Council. The Brotherhood Singers started in the Ninth Street Bapitist Chruch. They have commuinicated their interpretation of the "word" in most of the 50 states in the United States. They have toured in Canada, which in turn brought them to Spain, by way of a gracious invitation by the Dixie Hummingbirds, who were
impressed with their performance in Canada. They are presently scheduled for two more tours to Spain, in October 2000 and again in July 2001.
The members fo the Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers and their "voicings" are:
Eric Riley- 2nd Soprano and Alto
It is to be noted that when any member renders a solo number the other four lend harmonic support to the rendition.
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