Harry Douglass

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His army stint during the second World War is the only time baritone singer Harry Douglas wasn't associated with the Deep River Boys, a harmony vocal group with a repertoire of both gospel and secular…
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His army stint during the second World War is the only time baritone singer Harry Douglas wasn't associated with the Deep River Boys, a harmony vocal group with a repertoire of both gospel and secular music that was active one way or another for more than half-a-century. The group originated in the mid-'30s on the campus of Virginia's Hampton Institute, Douglas and his four accomplices jumping ahead in the vocal group race following a win on a radio contest for amateur performers. By the late '40s, the Deep River Boys were touring with top dancer and entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and were one of the first groups to appear on television.

The latter medium became an important point of exposure in the '50s, as Douglas and cohorts continued touring both the United States and Canada. Host Ed Sullivan helped to promote new recordings the group was making, ranging from gospel fare such as "Solid As a Rock" -- no connection to the truck commercial -- to jazzy swingers, including a vocal version of "Tuxedo Junction" with Erskine Hawkins. In 1951 the group cut tracks with producer Joe Davis, including a cover version of "Truthfully" by rhythm and blues performer Bon Bon. The group toured Europe with great success, including a ten-week stint at the London Palladium.

If there was a muddy reflection in the career of the Deep River Boys, it would have had to have been record sales. Douglas and an ever-shifting group of associates -- eventually he was the only original member of the group left -- found an ever-widening gap between the success of live concerts and the reports from record labels. The Deep River Boys swam back and forth between a major label contract with RCA, or its subsidiary Vik, and the aforementioned Davis and his indie Beacon firm, with nobody involved the least bit satisfied. In later years small labels such as Gallant and Wand put out the group's music, the former outfit showing no courage in distribution, and the latter appearing to have less than a magic touch when it came to sales. However, Douglas in particular seems to have thrived on his involvement with the group, continuing to sing when he was well past 80 years old.