The Hawks

Biography by

This wasn't the Canadian band who became the Band; the original members of this Hollygrove-New Orleans gospel quartet called the Hawks -- Albert Veal, John Henry Morris, Paul Exhano, and Sam Tophia --…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

This wasn't the Canadian band who became the Band; the original members of this Hollygrove-New Orleans gospel quartet called the Hawks -- Albert Veal, John Henry Morris, Paul Exhano, and Sam Tophia -- began their career by calling themselves the Humming Four and were all part of one of the oldest New Orleans-area groups to form in the post-World War era. They later recorded for Imperial Records' local A&R man Dave Bartholomew, who invited the group to work with some of his R&B groups.

The Humming Four originally formed in 1932 under the tutelage of Gilbert Porterfield's Alabama cohort, Sanders F. Newell. In 1934, singer/New Orleans entrepreneur Lorenzo Robinson brought them to the attention of radio station WWL, where they were one of the first local quartets to perform on the radio. Robinson's Humming Four then began touring the Louisiana-Mississippi countryside and by 1939, they were traveling as far as Houston, TX.

Meanwhile, Tophia had established himself as the city's busiest quartet vocal coach, passing the "Alabama Style" down to dozens of church quartets throughout the city and into the river parishes. During WWII, the Humming Four shifted from "crooning" melodies to fiery gospel, and were led by Paul Exkano, who later sang with the Soproco Singers, and recorded with the Alabama Blind Boys. Exkano later became a national evangelist minister.

Members passed in and out of the group. Other Humming Four vets included George Parks, Victor Joseph, Lindsay Stark, Joseph Gaines, George McAlister, and Edward "Pastor" Thomas, who made early-‘50s recordings with the Fairfield Four and the Skylarks. Pastor Thomas earned a reputation in New Orleans as one of gospel's greatest lead singers.

When Albert Veal returned from the Navy in 1947, he enlisted John Morris and Joseph Gaines to help restore the Humming Four to their original crooning form, emphasizing what he called "harmony and style." By 1951, the group had a weekly broadcast on WMRY, which attracted the attention of Wonder Label record man Victor "Papa Doc" Augustine, who recorded the group at J & M Studio and pressed their first single, "Mother's Love," which was composed and led by versatile Joseph Gaines. The group underwent a name change for its release, the first of several, now they were being calling the Famous Four. When Imperial Records' local A&R man Dave Bartholomew heard the group's Wonder session tapes, he invited the group to work with some of his R&B groups. This led to the Famous Four releasing a jubilee classic, "Twelve Gates to the City" b/w "Satisfied," which became Imperial's only New Orleans gospel quartet 45. Soon afterward, the Humming Four/Famous Four underwent another name change, becoming the Hawks. This was the name the group used when they released "Candy Girl" b/w "Joe the Grinder" on Imperial in 1953. Other singles followed: "She's All Right" (1954), "Nobody But You" (1954), "All Woman Are the Same" (1954) and "It's Too Late Now" (1955).

The Hawks failed to land on any charts and by 1958, they returned to their original form, singing in churches and local venues. Their last appearance before dissolving into the mists of time was at the funeral of their old instructor, Sandy Newell.