The Paramount Singers

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Although eclipsed in popularity by contemporaries including the Soul Stirrers and the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Paramount Singers were among the longest-lived gospel groups of the modern era, upholding…
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Although eclipsed in popularity by contemporaries including the Soul Stirrers and the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Paramount Singers were among the longest-lived gospel groups of the modern era, upholding the tradition of classic a cappella harmonizing for well over half-a-century. Assembled in Austin, TX in 1936, the Paramounts initially consisted of two pairs of brothers, Geno and Kermit Terrell and Ermant and A.C. Franklin, in addition to Herbert Sneed and Ben Williams. Sneed had been replaced by James Medlock -- later of the Soul Stirrers -- by the time they recorded for the Library of Congress in 1941; months later, however, the group's original incarnation came to an end when the Terrell brothers were drafted to fight in World War II, and upon receiving their respective discharges both siblings settled in the San Francisco area. There they reunited with Williams to form a new Paramounts lineup, also enlisting two other Austin natives, Sam Reece and Victor L. Medearis.

This new incarnation of the Paramount Singers' roster was in a seemingly constant state of flux, and in time Geno Terrell and Williams were the lone remaining original members; they were soon joined by new recruits Vance "Tiny" Powell, Archie Reynolds, E. Morris Kelley, and, albeit briefly, Paul Foster, who also later rose to fame as a member of the Soul Stirrers. Foster's replacement was Joseph Dean, who signed on in 1948; three years later, Powell exited to join the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, but soon returned to the Paramounts' fold. Despite recording for nationally distributed companies like Coral and Duke between the late '40s and mid-'50s, the Paramounts never earned the level of renown of many of their peers, largely because their day jobs and family ties kept their touring activity confined almost exclusively to the West Coast; Dean once even rejected an offer to join the famed Spirit of Memphis simply because of their hectic traveling schedule.

A 1955 session for Duke was the Paramounts' last commercial recording for close to four decades, but the group continued regularly performing throughout the years to follow. The lineup shifts continued -- Powell again exited in 1963 to pursue a career singing the blues, although he continued to rehearse with the Paramounts until his 1973 death, while the 1979 death of co-founder Williams cost the group not only their bass singer but also their guitar accompaniment. Unable to find a compatible bass vocalist, Reynolds took over the bottom himself; when no suitable guitarist arose, the Paramounts, who had long included a number of a cappella numbers in their repertoire, simply began performing without any instrumental backing at all, and found that many audiences seemed to prefer their new style. In 1992, the Paramounts -- now consisting of Reynolds and Dean in addition to relative newcomers Clyde Price, J.B. Williams, William Johnson, and the Rev. Odis Brown -- issued Work and Pray On, their first new record in 37 years.