A reissue package spotlighting the spiritual side of the Deep River Boys showcases a male quartet that, though recorded comparatively early in the group's long career, already possessed a polished, professional sound.
The 2-CD collection offers 55 spirituals and sacred songs culled from 16-inch Lang Worth transcription discs. Lang Worth transcriptions were sold in a subscription series to independent radio stations that sought access to top-tier artists, on a dime-store budget. That enabled small stations, for example to provide the same high-quality programming their larger competitors offered. In this way, transcription discs helped to somewhat level the playing field during radio's early years.
The Lang-Worths on the Southland release were recorded between 1941 and 1943 and feature a cappella singing, though a few selections find the group backed by either Ray Duran or Cameron Williams on piano. The main personnel represented here probably Vernon Gardner (first tenor), George Lawson (second tenor), Harry Douglas (baritone), and Edward Ware (bass) - could harmonize with the precision of a harmonica, The 'Deeps' also commanded an enormous repertory, the product of constantly learning new songs for it's weekly radio broadcasts, first for CBS then for the NBC Red network
The Deeps deliver standard arrangements of common folk spirituals such as Oh Mary, Don't You Weep, Git on Board, Little Children, and Roll Jordan Roll. On the other hand, a few selections, such as the the rhythmic Peter on the Sea, are fairly obscure. They Look Like Men of War, for example is a rarely heard Civil War era anthem that became a staple at Hampton Institute and was a fitting release as the world entered war. This cut will interest students of African American sacred music in particular.
Group harmony expert Charlie Homer penned the authoritative liner notes, which are handsomely illustrated and chronicle the groups' history from its formation in 1936 as the Hampton Institute Quartet (the founding members met as students at the HBCU) to its dissolution in 1980.
The collection's sound production is stellar. with ambient noise from the original 33.1/3 transcription discs barely discernible. It's a fine sampler of a group whose career spanned folk, pop, rock'n'roll, R&B, and showtunes, as well as spirituals and hymns. Needless to say, the compact package is far more portable and easier to play than a stack of 16-inch transcription discs requiring a special turntable.
-review by Robert M. Marovich
The Deep River Boys were one of America’s most iconic Black vocal quartets. Founded in Virginia in 1936, the “Deeps” career peaked in the 1940s though they continued on through 1980. The Deep River Boys recorded several hundred songs, but never had a gold record. Still, their career led them to tour five continents, including five trips to the Far East. They toured 16 African cities under the auspices of the U.S. State Department’s cultural exchange program. They made 32 consecutive annual visits to Europe including playing the London Palladium five years in a row. They sang to England’s Queen Elizabeth and at the White House to President Eisenhower. In their heyday, they were stars of stage, radio, film and TV.
Liner Notes by Charlie Horner