GOGR Music History -
Homeland Harmony Quartet
Recent personnel changes in gospel music have become a hot topic
among gospel fans. The following historical account of this quartet shows us that personnel changes are not new to current gospel groups. This quartet had more than forty members during its storied career, not including members that had more than one tenure with the group!
The name "Homeland Harmony Quartet" was first used in connection with a singing group in 1935 when Otis McCoy, Doyle Blackwood, Fred C. Maples, and B.C. Robinson organized the quartet. They were originally formed as a part of the Church of God Bible Training School ministry. The group had a major reorganization effort at the end of World War II. The new group was organized in 1943, and for a few months the personnel consisted of Eva Mae LeFevre, Otis McCoy, James McCoy, and B.C. Robinson. When Urias LeFevre returned from the military service, Eva Mae rejoined him in the LeFevre Trio and Connor Hall became the tenor for the Homeland Harmony Quartet . . . a title he would retain until his death in 1992.
The Homeland Harmony quickly developed a style all its own. On stage, they had a unique sound built around high harmonies and unusual arrangements. Before this time, most quartets sang their songs from the latest song books, almost note for note as written. The Homeland Harmony Quartet was famous for using more difficult arrangements that most other groups of their day. They sang with harmony that was unsurpassed by groups of their day. Much of this was due to Connor Hall’s desire for perfection. His ear could detect the slightest pitch variance, and he was perhaps the finest tenor in regards to harmony to ever sing gospel music.
Connor had strong ties to the Church of God. He acquired the name "Homeland Harmony" from the Tennessee Music and Printing Co. and moved the group to Atlanta, Ga. Soon after Hall joined the group, he enlisted the services of a young teenager, Hovie Lister, to play the piano and hired another future member of the gospel music Hall of Fame: bass singer Big Jim Waits. Soon thereafter, lead singer Otis McCoy left the Homeland Harmony Quartet in Atlanta and returned to the Tennessee Music and Printing Company in Cleveland, Tennessee.
Through the years, Connor Hall remained as the only tenor singer for the quartet, but the group faced many other personnel changes. James McCoy was also a mainstay in the group singing baritone for the Homeland Harmony Quartet until the quartet retired as a full time entity in 1957.
In 1947, Hall and McCoy were joined by Lee Roy Abernathy, Shorty Bradford, and A.D.Soward to form one of their finest quartet aggregations. This group created a great deal of controversy when they recorded Lee Roy’s new song, "Everybody’s Gonna Have a Wonderful Time Up There". The quartet released the song on White Church Records, and it became a great hit for them. It soon became known as "The Gospel Boogie", much to the dismay of many conservative religious leaders who often booked the quartet for singing conventions and worship services. The song was soon to become of the biggest sellers in gospel music history. Soon, many versions of the song were being released. Nearly ten years later, Pat Boone recorded a version of the song that charted quite well on the Billboard charts.
This particular group lasted long enough to make some fine recordings, mostly of Lee Roy Abernathy compositions, and they generated a large fan following. Lee Roy and Shorty were never with a quartet for a long period of time, performing instead as the Happy Two -- the worlds only two man quartet. When they vacated the Homeland Harmony Quartet, Paul Stringfellow left the Harmoneers to sing lead with the Homeland Harmony Quartet and Reece "Rocket" Crockett joined as pianist. A string of pianists, lead singers and bass singers joined forces with Hall and McCoy in the next few years. Many of the groups in the Atlanta area seemed to trade members much like a major league baseball team!
The Homeland Harmony Quartet was a model quartet for training young singers. Excellent musical skills were a necessity for joining this quartet. Most of their arrangements were written out on paper, leaving nothing to chance. The Homeland Harmony Quartet had daily radio programs on several major stations in the South such as WAGA and WGST on which they performed their latest recordings in addition to sight singing from the latest song books. They were tremendous musicians, all having attended many years of singing schools and singing conventions.
Among the notable pianists that accompanied this fine group were Wally Varner, Doy Ott, Randy Jones, Jack Clark, Livy Freeman, and Dickie Mathews. Lead singers included Bob Shaw, Harold Lane, Jim Cole, Wayne Groce, Tommy Rainer, and Fred Elrod. The bass position was a virtual "Who’s Who" and included Big Jim Waits (at least twice), A.D. Soward (at least twice), Johnny Atkinson, George Younce, London Parris, Johnny Hamrick, Bill Curtis and Rex Nelon. At one time, Lee Roy Abernathy also sang bass for the quartet! In later years, Jimi Hall and J.L. Steele sang baritone in the quartet.
The Homeland Harmony performed until the late 1950's when they retired as a full time group. Uncle Sam had claimed several of the younger members, James McCoy was experiencing some health concerns, so Connor Hall disbanded the group and went to work behind the scenes in the gospel music field.
The Homeland Harmony Quartet was temporarily out of service until the early 1960's when they reformed as a part time group with only one former member: Connor Hall. Connor was asked to record a solo album for Sing Records, but he wanted the Homeland Harmony in the studio with him. He called on several quartet veterans to join him in this new version of the Homeland Harmony Quartet. Connor procured two former Harmoneers, Jimi Hall and Fred Elrod, to sing the inside parts. Dickie Mathews, formerly with several groups including the Deep South Quartet and Crusaders, played the piano and newcomer Bill Curtis sang bass. This group didn’t join the quartet circuit, but recorded two fine albums and made a few select live appearances.
In 1968, Jack Clark and JL Steele joined Bill Curtis, Fred Elrod, and Connor Hall and formed a part time Homeland Harmony Quartet that lasted for many years. The group wasn’t extremely active in the quartet scene, but they enjoyed singing with each other and continued to make wonderful quartet music both in the studio and in selected programs. Unlike many groups of this type, the Homeland Harmony Quartet never rested on their hits from the past and continued to learn and perform new material in addition to Homeland Harmony hits from the past.
Connor Hall had a natural clear tenor voice. His ear for music was superb. In 1961, Hall entered a long, productive career as Music Editor of the Tennessee Music and Printing Company-one of the most important publishers and preservers of shape-note materials in the South. He was also the president of Sing Music Company. He was the first choice for the tenor position in the Masters V, even though he was quite a bit older than the other members. Proper singing kept Mr. Hall’s voice strong and clear even as his age approached the mid-70's.
The Homeland Harmony Quartet was responsible for several "firsts" in gospel music. They were the first gospel quartet to be featured on a radio network of fifty-five stations. They were also the first quartet to appear on television as they were on the South’s first telecast on WAGA-TV in Atlanta, Georgia. The quartet in conjunction with Lee Roy Abernathy, were the first gospel group to produce sheet music. They were also cosponsors, with the Rangers Quartet of the world’s first all-night gospel concert held in Atlanta, Ga.
There are eight former members of the Homeland Harmony Quartet in the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame, and several other former members that are quite deserving of induction. Eight former members have received the Living Legend Award at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion. Seven former members have been inducted in the Gospel Music Piano Roll of Honor. That is a wonderful legacy for an outstanding group from the past.
It was my pleasure to hear Mr. Hall sing "The Love of God" not long before his death. His voice was crystal clear, and it was obvious he had experienced the love of God that he sang about so wonderfully.
The Homeland Harmony Quartet was a model of quartet perfection due to their continual desire to improve their craft. They left a wonderful legacy for other quartets to follow.
Looking for Paul Stringfellow who sang with the Homeland Harmony for a while. One time attended FArrar Memorial Baptist church in Rand, WV. Members of the church would like to know where Mr. Stringfellow is now. Thank you
I had the pleasure as a young boy growing up on a farm in South Carolina to see The Homeland Harmony Quartet at what we called the annual Hopewell Homecoming, aan all day singing and dinner on the ground affair. This was in the late 1940s and I don't remember the exact year. I seem to recall buying one of their songbooks which got lost long ago. I wish that I still had it and I wish I knew the year I saw the quartet.
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