“Should you go first, and I remain …” is the beginning of the recitation accompanying “Beyond The Sunset.” Anyone who watched George Younce as he recited this to his wife on a recent video could feel the depth of his emotions. Who can forget J.D. Sumner reciting “Old Man Death” not long before his own death?
The bass recitation was once a common addition to most quartets’ programs and was also a part of many of their recordings. In fact, a statement on one of the Cathedral’s early albums indicated that they would try to include a recitation on each that was produced. There is something about that deep resonant bass voice that can elicit an emotional response. There have been recitations by other quartet members, e.g., lead (Jim Hamill), baritone (John Matthews), but my preference is the bass.
Billy Todd, when he was with the Florida Boys, stirred many hearts on Sunday morning via the Jubilee with his rendition of “Beyond The Sunset.” Later Buddy Liles of the Florida Boys did “The Apple Tree Song” and “IOU’s to Mama.” When he was a member of the Dixie Echoes, the Old Gospel Man – J.G. Whitfield – would recite “Father’s Table Grace” and “Brother Ira.”
George Younce was one of the best and also one of the most prolific. “The Touch of The Master’s Hand,” “Beyond The Sunset” (mentioned previously), “Steal Away,” and “Brother Ira” were part of his repertoire. The live recording from Atlanta by the Cathedrals included “Forgive Me When I Whine.” George’s “I’m A Sick American” was also very moving.
When Bob Thacker was with the Harvester’s Quartet, he would do “Mama Sang A Song” (which was also popular in the country market at the same time). He also had a great styling of “Father’s Table Grace.” Bob Thacker was one of those singers who didn’t get the publicity of some others, but he was a tremendous bass.
London Parris could rattle the speakers with his low notes but on his recitations his voice was much higher. He didn’t sound like one would expect from his singing, but his country dialect seemed to add realism to his recitations. London would do “Little Boy Lost,” “He Took My Place,” “This Is Our Land” and one of my favorites, “What Then.”
Probably the most prolific at this was J.D. Sumner. Some of his recorded recitations were: “Back Home,” “Mammy’s Boy,” “Sunday Meetin’ Time,” “Steal Away,” “Lord It’s Me Again,” “Who Will Take Grandma,” “Papa’s Banjo,” “The Three Nails,” “Going Home,” “My Prayer,” “The Farmer and The Lord,” “Thimble Full of Memories,” “23rd Psalm” and “Thinking Out Loud”. Of course his premonition of his own passing seemed to be evident in “Old Man Death.”
“Now back in south Georgia, when I was just a lad …” is the beginning of “Little Boy Lost.” When performed by “Chief” (James Wetherington), one can feel the urgency in the little boy – lost, stumbling in the darkness. Chief had a way of communicating that allowed the listener to become a part of his recitation as in: “Mother’s Prayers Have Followed Me,” “Sunday Meetin’ Time,” and “Prayer is the Key to Heaven.” The last time I saw the Statesmen with Chief was not long before his death at a concert in Charleston, WV. One of the highlights was when the lights were turned down and a single spotlight would be on Chief as he recited “The Common Man.” In his white suit and with his elegant gray/white hair, he was resplendent. One would have to be dead or an atheist not to be moved by his eloquent styling.
Are there any bass recitations today? A few can be found. Ed O’Neal of the Dixie Melody Boys did “I Love To Tell The Story” on a project several years ago. Why are there not more? My thoughts are this: it is difficult to do and that style is passé. But for me, there is nothing that compares to the deep resonant bass reciting a moving poem/chorus.
By Dean Adkins
First published by SGN Scoops in November 2014. For current issues visit the SGN Scoops mainpage.