PHILADELPHIA, April 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Mr. James B. Davis, founding member and patriarch of the world-famous gospel group, the Dixie Hummingbirds, died in Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 17, 2007. Born June 6, 1916 in Greenville, South Carolina, Mr. Davis was the Hummingbirds leader from their inception in 1928 through his retirement in 1984.
With a fluctuating lineup, the ‘Birds spent their first decade doing what Mr. Davis called “wildcatting,” performing along the eastern seaboard, establishing their reputation in each small town before moving on to the next. Mr. Davis took pleasure in explaining that he chose the name “Hummingbirds” because it was the only bird that flew both backwards and forwards and that’s how their career seemed to be going at the time.
The ‘Birds began to fly high in 1939 with their first records on the Decca label. In 1942, Davis relocated the group to Philadelphia for a daily radio show over station WCAU. The broadcasts led to a long-running stand at New York City’s Cafe Society where, as the Jericho Quintet with Lester Young backing, they broke down racial barriers performing to integrated audiences alongside Billie Holiday, the Golden Gate Quartet, Paul Robeson, and others.
Mr. Davis guided the Hummingbirds to stardom in the 1950s with a “super group” consisting of leads Ira Tucker and James Walker, bass William Bobo, harmonist Beachey Thompson, and guitarist Howard Carroll. Their post-war recordings influenced singers as disparate as Jackie Wilson, Bobby Bland, the Temptations, and Stevie Wonder, and helped lay the foundation for doo-wop, soul, and Motown. The ‘Birds were among the first to bring gospel performance to secular venues like the Apollo, Carnegie Hall, and the Newport Jazz Festival.
In 1973, Mr. Davis and the Hummingbirds collaborated with pop singer Paul Simon on “Loves Me (Like a Rock),” propelling the group to broader fame and winning them a Grammy for their own rendition.
Mr. Davis received numerous honors in his retiring years, including induction into both the Gospel and Vocal Group Halls of Fame and, in 2000, a National Heritage Fellowship. He last appeared publicly in October, 2005 when the city of Philadelphia unveiled a mural and named a street in honor of his beloved Dixie Hummingbirds.
A funeral for Mr. Davis will be held in Philadelphia on Friday, April 27, at the Second Pilgrim Baptist Church at 15th and Ogden with a viewing starting at 9:00 A.M. and a service at 11:00.