The death of Denver Crumpler brought about a distinct change in the sound of the Statesmen Quartet. Hovie Lister realized that it would not be wise to try to replace a voice like Denver’s with another Irish tenor, so he searched for a totally different type of tenor to blend with the Statesmen sound. Fortunately, Hovie was able to take his time in making that decision without the quartet losing the momentum it had established.
The search for a permanent tenor singer to replace Denver Crumpler was not easy. Fortunately, Cat Freeman was available to return to the quartet, and remained with them for over a year. Shortly after the death of Denver Crumpler, Les Roberson began experiencing vocal problems that no doubt occurred from singing outside his vocal range. Jake Hess also returned to the group, and the Statesmen were once again as they were in 1953.
During this time, the quartet developed a much more polished sound than they had in the early years with the same personnel. In the studio, the Statesmen of the 1957-1958 era produced some of the finest recordings of their career. Cat Freeman had a voice that was amazingly high, yet he could blend in the studio like nobody else. During this time, the Statesmen released one of this author’s favorite recordings, "The Statesmen Sing With Hovie Lister" (RCA Victor 1605). Although the cover art was very dramatic and hinted of high energy, the music within the grooves of the album was quite the opposite. This album presented classic modern Statesmen harmonies at its best. In the studio, there was no group that could hold a candle to the Statesmen Quartet at this time in their career. The thirty plus songs they recorded for RCA Victor during this time frame are among the finest that they ever committed to vinyl.
The Statesmen Quartet was quite different on stage with this aggregation. The precision wasn’t as pronounced, and they relied on humor in their performances to a much greater extent than during their time with Denver Crumpler. Cat Freeman was extremely funny, and his on and off stage exploits kept the quartet on its toes. However, the Statesmen wanted to provide more for their fans in concert than just humor. They wanted the precision on stage that they accomplished in the studio. This wasn’t going to happen with Cat Freeman. He was a great singer and a wonderful guy, but he wasn’t interested in the precision expected by the other members of the quartet. Nabisco also dropped their sponsorship of the Statesmen after the death of Denver because this was not the same type of quartet they had originally procured.
Album sales continued to thrive. RCA Victor soon released one of the Statesmen Quartet’s most popular albums, "The Bible Told Me So" (RCA 1683), which featured twelve songs recorded with Denver Crumpler. Many of these songs had been previously released as singles during Denver’s lifetime, so they had become favorites of the Statesmen fan base. Their fans appreciated this effort, and it ranks among the Statesmen Quartet’s finest recordings.
Cat Freeman soon grew weary of the excessive rehearsal that being a member of the Statesmen Quartet demanded, so he moved on. The quartet was also weary of Cat’s excessive on-stage clowning, so the departure was amicable and expected.
The next person to step on stage with the Statesmen wrote his own chapter in the history of the quartet. Roland D. ("Rosie") Rozell from Tulsa, Oklahoma brought a new and different sound to the Statesmen Quartet. This former police officer possessed a soulful sound in his voice that has never been duplicated by anyone in gospel music. Rosie brought an emotional style to the quartet that again gave the quartet an edge over all others in gospel music.
Rosie soon brought songs to the quartet that quickly became Statesmen standards. When you think of songs such as "Hide Thou Me" or "Room at the Cross," a picture of Rosie Rozell immediately comes to your mind. The Statesmen quickly went into the recording studio and produced an album for their own Statesmen label titled "Get Away Jordan" which featured new versions of several of their past recordings and highlighted their new tenor. "Get Away Jordan" quickly became one of their biggest selling recordings, and was one of the first to be released on the new Skylite record label. Skylite Recording Company was a joint record venture between the Statesmen and Blackwood Brothers featuring a new gospel music recording label and a stable of the finest artists in gospel music. This album became one of the best sellers in the entire Skylite catalogue.
The Statesmen Quartet of this era did a great job in the studio, but they were even more electrifying on the concert stage. Rosie brought his soulful style to the quartet, and Hovie capitalized on it as only the master emcee could do. RCA Victor was able to capture the excitement of the quartet during one of Wally Fowler’s All Night Singings in late 1959. This live Statesmen concert was recorded and it featured many Statesmen Quartet hits. "The Statesmen on Stage" quickly became one of the Statesmen Quartet’s top selling albums of all time. It captured the energy and soulful style that the quartet had recently embraced, and the public responded in kind.
Hovie Lister again had put together a terrific quartet, and their audiences were responding to them as never before. The Statesmen were at the top of the gospel music ladder. They continued to release new material on the Skylite and RCA labels. Whether the Statesmen sang a new arrangement of an old hymn or and updated version of a classic spiritual, the appeal was universal.
The Statesmen continued to prosper. They appeared on national television several times, and their record sales soared. Many classic Statesmen songs were recorded during this time frame. During the early sixties, songs such as "I’ve Found a New Way," "I Shall Not Be Moved," "Without Him" and "Oh What a Savior" became new Statesmen classics that would stand the test of time.
As the Statesmen again reached the pinnacle of the quartet world, lead singer Jake Hess felt a change was necessary. He had experienced the high energy antics of the Statesmen Quartet, but he was ready to look in a different direction. Jake felt that he had been a part of the greatest gospel quartet ever during the Denver Crumpler years. Now it was time for him to live his dream and form his own quartet. It seemed as though Jake felt that the Statesmen had reached their peak, and now he was ready to begin rehearsals with a new group composed of singers that he had hand selected.
Again, it became necessary for Hovie and the quartet to fill a vital position in the quartet. They sought to replace the man that had been the lead singer for the quartet for almost as long as the quartet had been in existence. Finding someone to fill those shoes was a difficult task to say the least. The Statesmen Quartet was at the top of the quartet game, but must now search for a replacement for the man many considered to be Mr. Gospel Music, Jake Hess. Jake possessed the sound that the entire quartet used as its focal point. This next decision would prove to be yet another important turning point in the history of the Statesmen Quartet.
I hope you’ll join me again next month as we explore the Statesmen Quartet after the departure of Jake Hess. Your comments are appreciated, and I welcome your questions. Please send your questions to me at email@example.com and post your comments at the end of this article.