GOGR Music History -
The Sunshine Boys
There are few groups in the entertainment world that have accomplished even a few of the many feats of the Sunshine Boys. The Sunshine Boys were formed in the late 1930's as a country and western band. They continue to perform to this day on a limited basis. Through the years, they have performed under several names, but they have always been four versatile musicians who were willing and capable of adapting their talents to meet the demands of their market.
Original personnel of the group included John ("Tennessee") Smith (tenor), his brother A.L. ("Smitty") Smith (lead), Milton ("Ace") Richman (bass), and Pat Patterson (baritone). Each of the members played a variety of instruments. They first called Macon, Ga. home while performing on radio station WMAZ before moving to Atlanta, Ga. where they performed regularly on WAGA and WSB. The Smith brothers and Ace Richman first crossed paths in Columbus, Ohio in 1938. This meeting established the roots of one of the most versatile quartets in gospel music history. In the beginning, the group played very little gospel music, but mainly concentrated on music of the Western / Swing variety.
Pat Patterson soon left the group when he answered Uncle Sam's call in 1942. He was replaced by Eddie Wallace, a young musician who was attending Georgia Tech at the time. Eddie was a fine pianist, and brought a great gospel musical heritage to the group. It was at this time that the group expanded their repertoire to include gospel music in addition to it's Western, Swing, and Pop numbers. The Sunshine Boys were now performing on several radio stations in the Atlanta area including WAGA and WSB.
The Sunshine Boys demonstrated their versatility at this time by performing as two different groups on radio station WAGA. The station needed a Western swing band, so the Sunshine Boys became their alter-ego: The Light Crust Dough Boys. They would perform a fifteen minute radio program as the Light Crust Dough Boys complete with a guitar, a bass, a fiddle, and an accordion as accompaniment. During a thirty-second commercial break, the group would then transform themselves into the Sunshine Boys. Eddie Wallace would move to the piano, swing the microphones around, and the Sunshine Boys would sing a fifteen minute gospel program. This setup lasted for several years. Very few listeners in the Atlanta area realized they were listening to the same group with different names. Their concert performances were always done under the name "The Sunshine Boys" and they featured basically gospel music. Their arrangements of these gospel tunes and spirituals were far superior to most of the groups of that day due to the vast musical abilities of all of the members of the group.
The Sunshine Boys were always expanding their horizons. In 1945, the Sunshine Boys traveled to California to begin a career in motion pictures. They appeared in a series of Western films with stars such as Eddie Dean, Lash Larue, Smiley Burnette, Charles Starrett, and the Durango Kid. In these films, the Sunshine Boys would sing Western songs and spirituals in the context of the movie.
The Sunshine Boys recorded a few gospel songs for the Village label in 1945 and some secular numbers for the Pan-American label in 1947. The Smith brothers were more interested in pursuing country and western music, so in 1949 they left the Sunshine Boys. This was their first personnel change in nearly seven years. "Tennessee" and "Smitty" Smith remained in the Atlanta area and performed country music as the Smith Brothers.
Ace Richman and Eddie Wallace continued to carry the gospel music banner into 1949. They performed for a short time as the Travelers Quartet when they hired two Floridians: tenor singer Horace Floyd and bass singer JD Sumner. Horace didn't stay with the group long, and the Sunshine Boys soon hired Fred Daniel from Covington, Ga. to sing tenor. The group soon moved to Wheeling, West Virginia and took a job at WWVA. They quickly built a following for themselves and became regulars on the WWVA Jamboree.
Eddie, Ace, Fred, and JD divided their time between Wheeling and Atlanta with occasional trips to Hollywood to pursue their movie career. In the early 1950's, the Sunshine Boys signed a major record contract with Decca Records. Their affiliation with Decca led to them to take part in one of the biggest selling recordings in gospel music history when they sang backing vocals on Red Foley's hit "Peace in the Valley".
The Sunshine Boys performed on countless radio stations via their transcription services. They also worked with Cy Langworth and recorded several hundred songs for the Lang-Worth Transcription service. They were one of the only gospel groups in the Lang-Worth stable of artists that included the Mills Brothers, Count Basie, Woody Herman, and Elton Britt among many others. The radio stations would lease these recordings to play on their stations. During this time, the Sunshine Boys would record around 50 songs per session.
They would find anything popular in the gospel field and record them for the Lang-Worth Transcription Services. According to Eddie Wallace, many people would pitch their songs to the Sunshine Boys. Once, Mosie Lister gave Eddie a stack of his songs for their consideration. Mosie told him that none of the songs had ever been recorded, and that most of them had been rejected by groups such as the Statesmen, Blackwood Brothers, Homeland Harmony, and LeFevres. When the Sunshine Boys started singing through Mosie's music, gems such as "How Long Has it Been", "Where No One Stands Alone", "I'm Bound for the Kingdom", and "Goodbye World Goodbye" were in this collection of rejected music. The Sunshine Boys soon recorded all of these songs, and they were quickly picked up by other major artists.
On June 30, 1954, the world of gospel music experienced a terrible tragedy when RW Blackwood and Bill Lyles of the Blackwood Brothers lost their lives in an airplane crash. This also had a major impact on the Sunshine Boys as the Blackwood Brothers hired JD Sumner from the Sunshine Boys to sing bass with them. Although JD was a fine bass singer in those days, JD wasn't noted for the lower range that he became famous for. JD possessed a high vocal range that was necessary for the Blackwood Brothers' harmony. This coup for the Blackwood Brothers brought about the first personnel change for the Sunshine Boys in several years.
Johnny Atkinson, a Georgia native, was chosen to sing bass with the Sunshine Boys. He had previously sung with several other groups in the Atlanta area including the Revelaires, Homeland Harmony, and LeFevres. He had a very smooth voice and fit the Sunshine Boys quite well. During this time, the Sunshine Boys began a network program for Minute Rice. Minute Rice sponsored several entertainers at this time including Eve Arden ("Our Miss Brooks") and Johnny Carson, but the Sunshine Boys outlasted both of them by several years. The Sunshine Boys also did commercials for other products such as General Foods, Sterling Drug, Prince Albert pipe tobacco (long before smoking was a "sin"), and even Tube Rose Snuff!
Burl Strevel left the Blue Ridge Quartet and joined the Sunshine Boys in 1956 replacing Johnny Atkinson. The group continued to flourish in the gospel field. The Sunshine Boys became the first gospel artist to headline in major hotels on the Nevada circuit. They moved to Nevada in 1960 to work venues such as the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, the Mapes Hotel in Reno, and the Nevada Lodge in Lake Tahoe. Their blend of gospel and western music made them favorites on the Nevada circuit.
Strevel rejoined the Blue Ridge Quartet in 1964 replacing George Younce. Jim Boatman, formerly with the Prophets Quartet, joined the Sunshine Boys as bass singer. Fred Daniel also left to join the Blue Ridge Quartet about a year later, replacing Ed Sprouse. The Sunshine Boys continued to perform on the Nevada club circuit until they retired as a full time group in 1968.
The Sunshine Boys have accomplished many "firsts" in gospel music. They introduced television to the South at WSB-TV. They sang in an experimental television project at Rich's department store before taking part in the first live telecast of WSB-TV in September 1948. They also did their own ABC radio network program daily from 1954-1959.
Tales that have been told (and printed!) about the Sunshine Boys and their exploits are legendary. The Sunshine Boys were blessed with two of the funniest and most candid storytellers in gospel music history: Eddie Wallace and JD Sumner. This writer will not even begin to recount these stories, but they are some of the funniest in the history of gospel music.
The Sunshine Boys continued to perform on a limited basis through the years, often enlisting the services of the late JD Sumner or the late Johnny Atkinson to fill the bass slot. They sang at "Old Timers Night" at the National Quartet Convention for several years. They have never missed the opportunity to perform at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, having not missed a performance there since 1988. Although several of the Sunshine Boys have passed away, the current group consisting of Fred Daniel, Bob Shaw, Jimmy Jones, and Ed Wallace continue to perform on a limited basis around the Atlanta area. Recently, the Sunshine Boys released a new video and CD with their current group. They still sing many Sunshine Boys classics just as they did in years past.
Next time you cook a pot of Minute Rice, make a purchase from General Foods, or contemplate the "satisfaction" of Tube Rose Snuff or Prince Albert Tobacco, remember the gospel quartet that helped to make them famous in the 1950's .... the Sunshine Boys!
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Terry Addis, Toccoa, GA
February 1, 2006
I had the privilege of being Ace Richman’s pastor for the last few years of his life. His colorful character and plain spokenness were a treasure to me.
In my visits with him he would recall those countless stories of the many years of gospel and country/swing singing. But his greatest story, one that always caused his eyes to fill with tears and that broken voice to break even more, was of Gods saving grace which had changed his life.
I will never forget comments such as “If I had known I would live this long, I would have surely taken better care of myself,” and “I told pastors that we would sing to them and they could save them.” And I will certainly never forget how nervous I would get if he started telling a joke while preparing to sing a song in our church.
His life was the song. And until his health prevented is ability to attend worship services there was never a Mother’s Day that did not feature Ace playing a guitar and singing the MOTHER Song. I don’t remember the words but it spelled out the word singing wonderful things about mothers. He truly fulfilled the famous quote from Elvis and kept on singing the song.
I rejoice in knowing that today Ace is still singing, now singing in the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I grew up in Ben Hill GA where Eddie Wallace is from. He told my daddy, Sheffield Thompson, that he used to keep a $100 bill inside his hat when on the road in case of an emergency. I remember the Wallace homeplace on Campbellton road and used to play with Eddie's nephew little Dorsey. He had a Moped which we rode around the yard. This was nearby on Niskey Lake road.
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