Like many quartets that have stood the test of time, the Swanee Quintet has consistently adapted its sound to meet the changing tastes of gospel audiences. Led by the effervescent Reverend Reuben Willingham, the quartet released dozens of remarkable singles and LPs for Nashboro and Creed throughout the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, getting funkier as gospel music adopted the style of its musical progeny, such as rhythm and blues and soul.
Today, more than sixty years after its founding, the Swanee Quintet is still going strong. Under the leadership of Percy Griffin, the quartet just released a CD, Still Holding On, for Onyx Entertainment. While I am unsure how many original members are present on the CD, James “Big Red” Anderson is there, just as he was in December of 1951 when the group waxed its first Nashboro disc. Given that the Swanee’s membership had not changed much throughout the decades, and that the group still maintains its base in Augusta, Georgia, there is a strong possibility that other original members are in the current lineup.
Still Holding On is jam packed with more than an hour’s worth of traditional quartet crowd pleasers, such as “Old Time Religion,” “You Brought Me from a Mighty Long Way,” “Pass Me Not,” and “How I Got Over.” The only disappointment is that on a number of the tracks the quartet’s harmonies can barely be heard over the lead vocal and instrumental accompaniment. Despite this, the Swanee Quintet has produced a solid recording that gets better with each successive track. The project is sure to win applause from quartet fans, particularly in the South where sacred vocal harmony commands a sizable and avid audience.