GOGR Music History -
Bobby Strickland & the Crusaders
Several months ago, I mentioned the Crusaders Quartet from Birmingham, Alabama in the context of an article about the Harvesters Quartet. Several readers have asked that I do an expanded summary of the career of this short lived quartet. This "history lesson" is in answer to that request. It is particularly appropriate at this time, for the gentleman in charge of forming the Crusaders, Bobby Strickland, was recently inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame.
Bobby Strickland is one of a long line of singers that call Sand Mountain, Alabama "home". After singing locally with the Sand Mountain Quartet and the Four Tones, Bobby was tapped to become the first tenor for the Harmoneers Quartet. The Harmoneers were just becoming a major force in the gospel music field. They were one of the first gospel quartets to sign a recording contract with a major secular label when they agreed to terms with RCA Victor. The popularity of the Harmoneers continued to grow, due in part to the charisma and talents of Bobby Strickland. (You can get an in depth look at the history of the Harmoneers in an earlier article). The Harmoneers were among the leaders in the world of gospel music during the time Mr. Strickland was singing tenor with the group.
Along about this time, another former member of the Sand Mountain Quartet, Hovie Lister, was beginning to fulfill his dream of forming the "perfect quartet". Bobby Strickland was chosen to sing tenor in this new group that Hovie dubbed "The Statesmen Quartet". Several personnel changes were made with that early group until Hovie settled on Bobby Strickland (tenor), Jake Hess (lead), Bervin Kendricks (baritone), and Jim Wetherington (bass). That group began to travel extensively in the summer of 1949. They signed a recording contract with Capitol records, and started on an adventure that led them to become arguably the finest quartet in the history of gospel music.
Much like Hovie Lister, Bobby Strickland also had a dream to form his own quartet. Bobby continued to sing and record with the Statesmen until September 1, 1950. Bobby left Atlanta and returned to his native state of Alabama where he set about forming the Crusaders Quartet. There were several quartets traveling the circuit, but the demand for good gospel quartet singing was higher than the supply of groups was able to fulfill. Bobby seized this opportunity and set about to fill that niche in the Alabama area.
Strickland used Birmingham, Alabama as the home base for his newly formed Crusaders Quartet. In doing so, he put together a great lineup of talented musicians. In addition to Strickland, some of the early members included Barney Curington, Bob Prather, Irby Gardner, and Charlie McClain. The group was an immediate hit due in part to their daily program on radio station WVOK in Birmingham.
Bob Prather was an excellent writer, and The Crusaders soon recorded several numbers on the Bullet label. Personnel changes happened quickly and soon another former Statesman, baritone Bervin Kendricks, joined the quartet. The quartet quickly began to gel as Bobby hired Buddy Parker to sing lead, Hershell Wooten as bass, and Dickie Matthews to play the piano. These three young gentlemen were relatively new to professional gospel music, but all went on to have long careers in the industry.
This group was much in demand on the quartet circuit. Bobby wrote some masterful arrangements for the group. He schooled the group not only vocally, but also with their stage presence. This determination made the group one of the most sought after groups on the quartet circuit. Bibletone Records soon signed the Crusaders Quartet to an exclusive recording contract, joining other professional groups such as the Homeland Harmony Quartet, LeFevres, and Sunshine Boys.
In addition to Bobby's work with the Crusaders Quartet, he also taught voice to various students in the Birmingham area. The Thrasher Brothers were among his young students. He also encouraged a young Elvis Presley in his musical endeavors. Bobby soon felt that God was calling him to the ministry. Those that knew him well felt he would have been an excellent minister of the Gospel.
September 24, 1953, Bobby was traveling with three other members of the Crusaders Quartet. That night, an automobile accident stilled the voice of one of the most talented singers of that era at the young age of 33. It was reported that the response to his passing was such that his funeral was one of the largest in that part of Alabama. All of gospel music loved Bobby, and their love was outpoured for their fallen comrade.
The remaining members of the group attempted to continue without their fallen leader. The remaining Crusaders Quartet procured the services of another Sand Mountain tenor, Bill Hefner, to sing in the group, but the Crusaders Quartet soon disbanded. Hefner, Buddy Parker, and Hershell Wooten soon reunited in Charlotte, North Carolina as the foundation for the Harvesters Quartet.
The Crusaders Quartet left us with about twenty songs recorded on 78 rpm vinyl. Although their career was short and recording output limited, they were on the cusp of greatness prior to the death of Bobby Strickland. Big things were certainly in store for the Crusaders Quartet.
Personally, I am glad that the members of the SGMA Hall of Fame have chosen to recognize the talents and legacy of Bobby Strickland and his Crusaders Quartet.
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