Previous Vocal Group Record of the Week
#920 (2/9/19)


"She Believed A Gypsy"/
"Do You Care?"
The Delta Rhythm Boys
on Decca 8561 A/B
released in 1941

"Let Me Off Uptown"/
"Take The 'A' Train"
The Delta Rhythm Boys
on Decca 8578 A/B
released in 1941

"Mad About Her, Sad Without Her,
How Can I Be Glad Without Her Blues"/
"Keep Smilin', Keep Laughin', Be Happy"
The Delta Rhythm Boys
on Decca 4266 A/B, released in 1942

"Praise The Lord
And Pass The Ammunition"
The Delta Rhythm Boys
on Decca 4406 A
released in 1942

"Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me"/
"Trav'lin' Light"
The Delta Rhythm Boys
on Decca 4440 A/B
released in 1944

Above: The Delta Rhythm Boys. Photo is from the 1943 Universal film "Weekend Pass". (L-R) Rene DeKnight (at piano), Clinton Holland, Lee Gaines, Traverse Crawford, and Kelsey Pharr. Phil Beauchamp adds: In this movie, they sing "All Or Nothing At All." It was filmed in 1943 but not released until February 1944.

The following mini-biography, authored by Frank Harmon, is borrowed from the website....

The story of The Delta Rhythm Boys begins in 1934 at Langston University in Oklahoma. Second-year student Lee Gaines had been chosen by school president Dr. Isaac Young to form a university quartet. Lee, a sousaphone player who had led his freshman vocal quartet to a first prize in class competition, recruited first tenor Elmaurice Miller, second tenor Traverse Crawford, and baritone Essie Adkins while keeping himself on bass. The group arranged to go to Dillard University of New Orleans after meeting Dr. Horace Mann Bond (father of politician Julian Bond), who got the boys excited about the new music program he was assembling at Dillard as its new dean. Thereafter, they make a tour in Southern universities, the group was so well received that when they returned to school they were informed that their tuition fees and costs had been absorbed by the college, in effect granting them full scholarships.

In the summer of 1937 the quartet made their first professional appearance a continent away from home, performing in Buenos Aires and singing weekdays on Argentina Radio Splendid. A three-month stay turned into seven months of radio works, musical theatre, and performances in Peru and Chile. Having already missed half the school year at Langston University , the group decided to take their career further by moving to New York. The quartet presented itself at an audition and won against groups such as The Deep River Boys and The Charioteers. Their reputation grew through their 15-minutes-a-day radio show on CBS and other Broadway shows such as "Hellzapoppin'" and Mike Todd's "The Hot Mikado" starring Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. In 1939 the group met Paul Kapp (brother of Decca Records exec Dave Kapp), and their lengthy recording career began with the recording on December 16, 1940 of four songs for that label. The first two songs, "Chilly and Cold"/"Gimmie Some Skin," were released in March 1940. Meanwhile, they kept up a whirlwind of performance activity, which culminated in a film contract with Universal Pictures.

The early '40s saw a new look for The Delta Rhythm Boys: Clinton Holland took over first tenor and was replaced shortly thereafter by Carl Jones; Essie Adkins was replaced by Kelsey Pharr on baritone. The band's composition was now Lee Gaines (bass), Traverse Crawford (second tenor), Clinton Holland (first tenor), Kelsey Pharr (baritone). In 1941, the pianist Rene DeKnight joined the group. Their multifaceted career continued. In 1942, they began playing Las Vegas (when it only had two hotels). They spent two years singing on the "Amos and Andy" radio show. By the beginning of 1945 they'd already recorded 20 singles (including five with Mildred Bailey and two with Fred Astaire) and appeared in 11 Universal films and shorts including "Weekend Pass" and "Follow the Boys."

In June of 1945 Decca released the first of their sides done with Ella Fitzgerald, "It's Only a Paper Moon"/"Cry You Out of My Heart." "Paper Moon" was a particularly fine shuffle-beat smoothie that had Ella and the boys trading leads. In December of 1945 The Delta Rhythm Boys' 23rd 78 hit the market. "Just A-Sittin And A-Rockin" rose to number 17 on the pop charts, their first (and only) chart success. In March of 1949 The Delta Rhythm Boys recorded under the name the Four Sharps for Atlantic. Victor began reissuing several of their 78s on 45 rpm in April 1949, and Decca continued to record and release The Delta Rhythm Boys' product. Still, they managed to get back on Atlantic and even recorded under their own name for that label in late 1949 with another bass-led ballad, "Sweetheart of Mine." Possibly their best Atlantic effort was the jazz-tinged "If You See Tears in My Eyes" of March 1950.

During a 1956 trip to Montreal, the group had an impromptu backstage visit from Albert Tavel of the French agency Tavel and Marouani. He managed to lure the group to Paris for a New Year's Eve show at the Moulin Rouge; it turned into a nine month engagement. The "vedettes Americaines" (American stars) became so popular that they signed to record with the French Barclay Records in 1957 and Vega Records in 1958.

In 1960, after returning from a tour in Japan with the group, Kelsey Pharr fell ill and died a few months later in 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the age of 44. Soon after, Carl Jones left to have more time with his family and was replaced by first tenor Herb Coleman. Hugh Bryant replaced Kelsey Pharr. In 1960, the pianist Rene DeKnight left the band to pursue other ventures. With the American music scene changing rapidly, The Delta Rhythm Boys found their appeal diminishing. Overseas they were royally received, however, so in the early 1960s the group made Paris their home base for years of European performances including, Finland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

In June 1974, Herb Coleman was shot in Cannes, France and died in the arms of Lee Gaines. He was 46. Original member Traverse Crawford died in the following year at the age of 59 in Switzerland. Walter Trammel and Ray Beatty replaced them. By 1979, the lineup was Lee Gaines on bass, Hugh Bryant on baritone, Walter Trammell on first tenor, and Ray Beatty on second tenor. Lee Gaines continued singing with the group until 1986, when he retired for health reasons.

The group had been together more than 50 years when founder Lee Gaines died on July 15th, 1987, in his home of only one year, in Helsinki, Finland. But fate was going on with The Delta Rhythm Boys. One week later, Hugh Bryant sang the gospel hymn "He will Understand and Say Well Done" at Lee Gaines' funeral and died of a heart attack at the end of the song. In over 50 years of singing, the group made more than 35 motion picture appearances, were guests on hundreds of radio and television shows, appeared in five Broadway musicals, recorded over 500 songs and performed in 10 languages on four continents.

Above: The Delta Rhythm Boys (L-R) Traverse Crawford, Lee Gaines, Rene DeKnight (in front), Kelsey Pharr, and Carl Jones.

[Above photo courtesy of Ferdie Gonzalez.]

Above: The Delta Rhythm Boys with an unknown woman. Phil Beauchamp adds: This is from the 1945 Universal film "Easy To Look At" in which they sing to that woman "Is You Is, Or Is You Ain't My Baby."
Steve Fernie adds: The "unknown woman" in the above photo is Suzette Johnson. I have another publicity photo from the film that credits her in the caption on the back.

[Above photos provided by Phil Beauchamp.]

Above: The Delta Rhythm Boys in the movies. From Phil Beauchamp: The Delta Rhythm Boys had a seven year contract with Universal Pictures which was optional after the first year. Universal dropped them because they refused to do films wth stereotype roles. All in all, they appeared in 18 features and shorts for Universal Pictures. The above left photo is from the 1943 Universal film "Crazy House" singing "A Pocket Full Of Pennies." In the background is the Count Basie Orchestra. The above right photo is from the 1945 Universal short "Swing High Swing Sweet" singing "What A Difference A Day Makes."

Above: The Delta Rhythm Boys (L-R) Rene DeKnight, Traverse Crawford, Carl Jones, Kelsey Pharr, and Lee Gaines.

(Provided by Hans-Joachim Krohberger)


The Delta Rhythm Boys, vocal quartet of stage, screen and radio, are heard to advantage in Universal's "Hi'Ya Sailor" now at the Capitol Theatre. Together since they met as music students at Dillard University in New Orleans in 1935, the team consists of Clinton Holland, first tenor; Traverse Crawford, second tenor; Kelsey Pharr, baritone; and Lee Gaines, bass, with Rene DeKnight at the piano.

After cutting their musical teeth, so to speak, as the university quartet, the boys went into radio and concert work. A successful excursion to South America then followed, after which they returned to New York, to appear at Le Ruban Bleu supper club. They have been featured in three Broadway shows: "Sing Out The News," "Hellzapoppin," and "The Hot Mikado," and in the Bill Robinson show in Los Angeles, "Born Happy." Their experience includes two seasons on CBS....

The Delta Rhythm Boys are currently on a nationwide tour which started in Los Angeles recently with their appearance at the Orpheum Theater and followed by a hold-over run in the Ramona Room of the Hotel Last Frontier, Las Vegas. This singing group features popular tunes as well as novelties and spirituals. Singing in the group are Kelsey Pharr, Traverse Crawford, Lee Gaines, and Carl Jones. Rene DeKnight is their pianist-accompanist and arranger.

They have recorded Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, and Travelin' Light and are soon to be heard on Just A-Sittin' And A-Rockin'. They record for Decca. In pictures they recently completed a long-term contract at Universal and can currently be seen in Follow The Boys, Night Life and Reckless Age. In radio they have the distinction of appearing on California Melodies over Don Lee-Mutual Network for 13 weeks. Group has also appeared in many night clubs, including Slapsy Maxie's in Los Angeles.

The Delta Rhythm Boys were originally known as the Rhythm Boys, a name they took over soon after starting out professionally from Dillard College in New Orleans. Under the management of Music Corporation Of America, their personal manager is Paul Kapp.

VIDEO (MP4)....

The three movie stills are from the 1941 Soundie "Take The 'A' Train" with The Delta Rhythm Boys singing the title song.

THE BILLBOARD, November 8, 1941:
Program 1038 Produced by Minoco Productions. Released by Soundies Distributing Corporation of America, Inc.
....THE DELTA RHYTHM BOYS, strong Negro harmony quartet, interpret Take The "A" Train effectively. Action takes place on a New York subway ride into Harlem and finally into a lively cafe where a pretty copper-colored line presents a good rhythm routine.

Listen to "Take The "A" Train" - The Delta Rhythm Boys - Minoco Soundie - 1941 using Windows Media Player.

Watch the VIDEO of The Delta Rhythm Boys singing "Take The "A" Train" in a Minoco Soundie in MP4 format.
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Duke Ellington And His Orchestra, with featured vocalist Betty Roche, in a still shot taken from his "Take The 'A' Train" short, which was included in the 1943 movie "Reveille With Beverly". Betty is backed vocally by members of the orchestra on this song. Note that Miss Roche dances "the twist" in this video, well before its national fame.

"Duke Ellington And His Famous Orchestra" recorded an instrumental version of this song on February 15, 1941, which was released on Victor 27380-A. Also note that the lead-in to the video shows a Victor record spinning on the turntable.

Listen to "Take The "A" Train" - Duke Ellington Orchestra - "Reveille With Beverly" Movie - 1943 using Windows Media Player.

Watch the VIDEO of Duke Ellington Orchestra performing "Take The "A" Train" in MP4 format.
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EXTRA AUDIO #1 (Windows Media Player):


This thirty minute musical show was hosted by Ernie Whitman and featured the C. P. Johnson Band. The AFRS transcription disc was produced to entertain armed forces personnel and includes two selections by The Delta Rhythm Boys. Both are Johnny Mercer compositions. The first, "That Old Black Magic", is sung by them and on the second, "Knock Me A Kiss", they back up Johnny Mercer himself.

ABOVE LEFT: The Delta Rhythm Boys (L-R) Rene DeKnight (piano), Kelsey Pharr, Traverse Crawford, Carl Jones, and Lee Gaines.

ABOVE MIDDLE: Ernie Whitman, M.C. of the AFRS 061 Jubilee transcription disc show. Inscription on photo is "Bill" of "The Beulah Show." Whitman played Beulah's boy friend, "Bill Jackson", on CBS Radio's "The Beulah Show" in 1946 and 1947.

ABOVE RIGHT: Johnny Mercer, featured guest on the AFRS 061 Jubilee show.

LISTEN: "That Old Black Magic/Knock Me A Kiss" - The Delta Rhythm Boys/Johnny Mercer And The Delta Rhythm Boys - AFRS 061 Jubilee - 1944.

Above Left: Label image of Decca 8561 recorded on May 22, 1941 and released in July 1941. The "B" side was recorded on June 13, 1941.

Above Right: Label image of Decca 8578 recorded on August 21, 1941 and released in September 1941.

Above Left: Label image of Decca 4266 recorded on May 19, 1942 and released in June 1942.

Above Right: Label image of Decca 4406 recorded on October 15, 1942 and released in November 1942. The flip, a re-issue of "Dry Bones", was recorded on December 16, 1940.

Praise The Lord may get another boost in connection with its being featured in Paramount's forthcoming The Story Of Dr. Wassell. Recordings available include Kay Kyser (Columbia) and Merry Macs (Decca) which were going strong for many months, plus Delta Rhythm Boys (Decca), Southern Sons (Bluebird), Royal Harmony Quartet (Keynote), and Peter Piper (Hit).
(NOTE: Per the website, "The Story Of Dr. Wassell", starring Gary Cooper and Laraine Day, was released in July 1944. The "Praise The Lord...." song was not in this movie, nor were any events of the Pearl Harbor sneak attack.)

EXTRA AUDIO #2 (Windows Media Player):
[Audio restoration by Dave Saviet.]


"Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" is an American patriotic song by Frank Loesser and published as sheet music in 1942 by Famous Music Corp. The song was a response to the attack on Pearl Harbor that marked the United States' involvement in World War II. The song describes a chaplain ("sky pilot") being with some fighting men who are under attack from an enemy. He is asked to say a prayer for the men who were engaged in firing at the oncoming planes. The chaplain puts down his Bible, mans one of the ship's gun turrets and begins firing back, saying, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition". [From Wikipedia]

ABOVE RIGHT: Frank Loesser, at piano, working on his composition "Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition".

1. "Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition" - Kay Kyser Orchestra (Glee Club) - Columbia 36640 - 1942.
2. "Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition" - The Song Spinners - Musicraft 15008 B - 1942.
3. "Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition" - Pete Piper Orchestra (The Peppers) - Hit 7026 - 1942.
4. "Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition" - Royal Harmony Quartet - Keynote D 101-B - 1942.
5. "Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition" - The Southern Sons - Bluebird 30-0806-A - 1942.
6. "Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition" - The Merry Macs - Decca 18498 A - 1942.
7. "Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition" - Liberty Glee Club - Victory Y 1102-A - 1942.
ALL SEVEN played in sequence.

Above Left: The Delta Rhythm Boys.

Above Right: Label image of Decca 4440 recorded on February 25, 1944 and released in April 1944. The Delta Rhythm Boys began recording for the Decca label in 1940 with releases from 1941 through 1946, and then again in 1954/1955. In between, they recorded for RCA Victor, with releases from 1947 through 1953. There were also several releases on Atlantic in 1949/1950 (one as by The Four Sharps), with some providing vocal backing for Ruth Brown. They also had three releases on Mercury recorded in 1950/1951 that were not released until 1952.

NOTE: Most discographical information provided at this website is from Ferdie Gonzalez' Disco-File.

Listen to this week's selections featuring The Delta Rhythm Boys on Decca from 1941/1944 using Windows Media Player:
[Audio restoration by Dave Saviet.]

          1. She Believed A Gypsy
          2. Do You Care?
          3. Let Me Off Uptown
          4. Take The 'A' Train
          5. Mad About Her, Sad Without Her, How Can I Be Glad Without Her Blues
          6. Keep Smilin', Keep Laughin', Be Happy
          7. Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition
          8. Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me
          9. Trav'lin' Light
          ALL NINE ABOVE SIDES played in sequence

          [To download audio files, right-click on song title link and then select "Save link (target) as..."]

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