GOGR Music History -
Lee Roy Abernathy &
the Miracle Men
Lee Roy Abernathy was a wonderful asset to the world of gospel music. He contributed to the growth of gospel music in many ways. He was a masterful writer, arranger, promoter, and teacher of gospel music. He was quite creative in his techniques and his writings.
He wrote a book in 1948 simply entitled "IT". "IT" is a grand collection of Lee Roy's songs and his commentaries about quartet life. It was designed to be a handbook for gospel musicians. It is a highly sought collector's item today.
In addition to all of his other areas of expertise, Lee Roy was gifted in the art of placing various voices together to give the best possible quartet sound. The Miracle Men was one such group.
Lee Roy played a major role in the growth of the Homeland Harmony Quartet in 1947. That version of the quartet consisted of Connor Hall, Carroll E. "Shorty" Bradford, James McCoy, Aycel D. Soward, and Lee Roy Abernathy. With the leadership of Connor Hall and the ideas of Lee Roy Abernathy, they quickly became one of the finest quartets in gospel music. They soon began recording for White Church Records, and set many sales records for that time frame. The group thrived for about a year before disbanding.
Shorty and Lee Roy went their separate ways apart from the other members of the Homeland Harmony Quartet and soon established themselves as "The Happy Two" They billed themselves as the world's only two man quartet. The Happy Two were quite an unusual "group". Not only were they excellent musicians, but their program focused on corny humor, which the two pulled off flawlessly.
The Happy Two drew from songs that had interesting parts which often intertwined with each other. When they sang, they sounded almost like a quartet. Both singers had extensive vocal ranges, and this added to their appeal. At one time, there was a $500 diamond ring offered to anyone that could sing as high or as low as Shorty Bradford. Although the Happy Two was a novelty act, their talents made them a major force in gospel music.
They claim to have recorded the first "live in concert" record with their version of "Jacob's Ladder". I'm not sure I agree, for it sounds like canned applause to me. Nevertheless, it was a great way to demonstrate their comedic prowess. They excelled at novelty tunes. One of their recordings, "Shorty's Banjo", features Shorty Bradford playing "Cripple Creek" on the piano. He makes the piano sound remarkably like a 5-string banjo.
The expertise of these two gentlemen led them to form a new quartet in the early 1950s called "The Miracle Men". The personnel was hand-picked by Lee Roy and Shorty to demonstrate excellence in musical ability. Their former comrade from the Homeland Harmony Quartet, Aycel Soward, joined the group as bass singer. Earl Terry was the first tenor and Idus Spivey filled out the quartet as the baritone.
This was an all star group in gospel music at the time. Earl Terry had sung tenor with some of the finest groups of the day. His resume includes stints with the LeFevres, the All American Quartet, and the Foggy River Boys. He even spent some time with the Statesmen Quartet while Hovie Lister was in the Army.
The baritone singer, Idus Spivey, is not a household name in the nationwide gospel music scene, but he was a fine vocalist. Idus, his brother Verly, and his sister-in-law Jewel had a wonderful trio called the Spivey Trio. They were quite active in the Georgia and Florida area. They were also a major force in gospel music promotion in the South. Idus had a tremendous vocal range and had the potential to sing tenor even though he usually sang baritone for the Miracle Men.
Aycel D. Soward was chosen to sing bass in this innovative quartet because of his versatility and vocal ability. Soward had previously sung with some of the finest quartets of the day, and was known as one of the finest bass singers ever to step upon a gospel stage. His previous employment with the Harmoneers, Homeland Harmony Quartet, Friendly Five, and the All American Quartet had made him a household word in the gospel singing industry. In fact, he was chosen by Hovie Lister to be the first bass singer in the Statesmen Quartet. His trained voice and ability to blend and sing rhythmically made him a natural for the Miracle Men.
Shorty Bradford and Lee Roy Abernathy had been a friends and singing cohorts for many years. They sang together in the Four Tones, Homeland Harmony Quartet, and they often performed as the "Happy Two". Shorty had a tremendous vocal range in addition to a very dry sense of humor. He and Lee Roy were best friends, and often showed up on recordings together. He was a natural to fill the role of lead singer in the quartet.
J.R. Marone was also a member of the group for a short time, but this writer knows very little about him. He did record one song with the quartet, "I'll Not Be Satisfied". On that number, Marone sang baritone and Idus Spivey sang lead.
The Miracle Men had a built in song machine in their manager, Lee Roy Abernathy. The group only released twelve songs for public sale. It wasn't by chance that they were all written by Lee Roy. They also recorded on the "Quartet" label, owned by . . . you guessed it! Lee Roy Abernathy! These rare recordings were only released on 78 rpm records, and they are quite sought after by collectors.
When the Miracle Men were on a program, you could rest assured that they would be singing songs that no other group on the program would sing. This was because of two factors:
#1. Lee Roy Abernathy was a proverbial well of new music. He was turning out hit songs almost every day.
#2. The Miracle Men had abilities that were better than most of the groups of that time. They could sing intricate Abernathy arrangements that most other groups could only marvel at. Often, the group would sing five-part music with Lee Roy adding the fifth part.
It's been said of several groups that "they were too good to stay together". The same could be said of the Miracle Men. They were well loved and well respected, but all of the members had a tendency to move from group to group. After about a year, the Miracle Men went their separate ways.
Shorty, Lee Roy, and Aycel returned to the Homeland Harmony Quartet for a short time, but it was indeed a very short time for Shorty and Lee Roy. They sang for a short time in a group called the Hi-Fi Quartet with Harmoneers bass singer Seals "Low Note" Hilton. Not many months later, the Harmoneers regrouped and Shorty and Seals found themselves together in the Harmoneers with Lee Roy in the background helping with their arranging and recording.
Aycel Soward remained with the Homeland Harmony Quartet until the effects of lung cancer took his life on Easter Sunday of 1956. This remarkable young man sang with some of the finest groups in gospel music and was well respected by all of his peers.
The Happy Two continued to perform on radio and television and often did concert tours. Prior to his death, Shorty spent time with his family singing in the Shorty Bradford Trio. His wife, Jean, was a noted songwriter. She was most famous for writing the song "Lord, I Need You Again Today".
Lee Roy continued to teach piano and voice lessons to many famous gospel musicians until his death in 1993.
In later years, he still traveled on a part time basis with various quartets filling the role of vocal coach and pianist. The SGMA Hall of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame have recognized his achievements, and have inducted him into their respective halls. He was responsible for printing the first gospel sheet music and boasted of thousands of piano students taught with his "Modern Gospel Piano Course by Mail".
Although the Miracle Men have been almost forgotten by the world of gospel music, the standards they set for themselves as musicians can still be used as a standard for gospel quartets today.
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