John Daniel Quartet
Gospel Group Boaz, AL
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
This month, I’d like to spotlight the career of a quartet that was instrumental in making southern-style gospel music popular with the general public and who contributed many of the most popular singers to the genre.
In the days before LPs, the National Quartet Convention, the Gospel Music Association, and even the Gospel Music Channel(ALL of television, for that matter!), the John Daniel Quartet was one of the best-known and most influential gospel music artists of the day.
John Tyra Daniel was perhaps the first of the many, many gospel singers hailing from the famous Sand Mountain region of Alabama, being born in 1903 in Boaz.
And like many Southern families in those days, the Daniel family was quite musical. John’s brothers Luther and Troy sang, as did his sisters Mary and Ora. In time they formed a group of their own and called it the Daniel Family Quartet.
After a while, as was so often the case in those halcyon days, brothers John and Troy had the desire to make a career out of their singing. So John got two friends, Carl Rains and E. C. Littlejohn, to sing bass and baritone respectively, and formed the John Daniel Quartet, anchored by John’s clear tenor and Troy’s strong lead vocals.
In those days, gospel quartets could only sing on a full-time basis if they were able to secure a contract with one of the leading songbook publishing companies. Fortunately for the John Daniel Quartet, they were able to sign on with the A.J. Showalter Company, and they were able to get their career off to a promising start during those dark Depression days of the mid 1930s.
By 1937, the quartet had joined the prestigious Vaughan organization, and they agreed to sell Vaughan songbooks exclusively. With that arrangement though, they still booked concerts for themselves on a private basis, something that was almost unheard of at that time. They were able to do that, though, because by that time they had developed a quite entertaining personal appearance style, sometimes incorporating popular hits into their appearances, much as many gospel singers of the day did at that time.
The John Daniel Quartet’s popularity continued to rise. As word spread, so did the quartet’s traveling schedule. By the end of the 1930s, they had appeared in 38 states of the union, as well as in Canada. Clearly, the gospel quartet style had appeal to many far and wide when performed well. This kind of popularity was a portend of things to come in subsequent years.
In 1936, the quartet brought in a baritone from Georgia with style and charisma. Wallace Fowler’s renditions of songs like “New San Antonio Rose” and his penchant for comedy further boosted the popularity of the John Daniel Quartet even more. Fowler would sing with Daniel until 1943, then go on to form another quartet in Tennessee that would eventually become the Oak Ridge Quartet. Still later, he would pioneer the famous “All Night Sings” that became a staple for some time in the Southeast. By that time Wallace was better known as Wally Fowler.
And by 1940, the John Daniel Quartet, now featuring the great Jim “Pappy” Waites singing bass, left the Vaughan Company to represent the Stamps-Baxter organization. Although that move meant even more money and exposure than before, it prohibited them from securing radio contracts(radio had joined publishing companies as key to a quartet’s survival by then)with stations not affiliated with the Stamps-Baxter Company.
So in 1942, the quartet did the unprecedented move of leaving the Stamps-Baxter company and signing a radio contract with Nashville’s 50,000 watt powerhouse WSM to do a morning program. This led to eventually joining the cast of the Grand Ole Opry, exposure that no other gospel quartet had up to that time. This led to many younger gospel singers aspiring to achieve the degree of recognition and popularity of the John Daniel Quartet.
Among the younger singers and musicians that joined the John Daniel Quartet at that time included a teenager from Haleyville, AL named Jake Hess, who was thrilled as could be that a relative neophyte to gospel singing could join up with such a leading quartet right off the bat. Hess possessed a unique style that developed further upon joining later quartets such as the Melody Masters and the Statesmen by the late 1940s.
Another young performer getting his initial exposure to gospel music with the John Daniel Quartet was a pianist from the Nashville area named Gordon Stoker, who would later join another quartet out of Nashville known as the Jordanaires, who would become the most recorded and one of the most famous quartets in the world.
The John Daniel Quartet sang on through the 1950s, always appreciated and liked despite being surpassed in influence and popularity by quartets such as the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen. John Daniel passed away in 1961, not even reaching the age of 60.
Daniel was inducted into the GMA Hall of Fame in 1972, and the SGMA Hall of Fame in 1997. His quartet left a legacy of good music and one that achieved a great deal of popularity in the general music world. As such, the John Daniel Quartet did much to spread the southern gospel genre beyond its’ normal boundaries, and by so doing paved the way for other groups that did the same thing, such as the Blackwood Brothers, the Statesmen, the Imperials, and the Oak Ridge Boys.
And by giving talents such as Wally Fowler, Jim Waites, Jake Hess, Gordon Stoker, and Tommy Fairchild a place to demonstrate their abilities, the John Daniel Quartet did the entire world of gospel music a service.
I hope you all enjoyed this remembrance of a gospel quartet that truly paved the way for the popularity and acceptance of southern-style gospel music .
More info: http://www.sgma.org/inductee_bios/john_daniel.htm