Something different to end the weekend; a series of radio recordings made by The Deep River Boys for the Lang-Worth Transcription Company, circa 1939.
The Deep River Boys left a legacy of fine recordings during their 50 years of performing, setting a standard for professionalism and longevity that is to be envied. They began recording as a gospel act in the late ’40s and later switched over and became an R&B act and were more popular in Europe for periods of time before coming home to the States for triumphant return engagements.
Their story begins in 1936, when all of the Boys — Harry Douglas (baritone), Vernon Gardner (first tenor), George Lawson (second tenor), Jimmy Lundy, and Edward Ware (bass) — were still students at Hampton Institute in Virginia in the mid-’30s, singing in the school choir. They began appearing on radio and in 1937, landed a job on the CBS network replacing the Oleanders (whose lead singer, Billy Williams, had left to form the Charioteers). The Deep River Boys signed with Bluebird Records in 1940 and began recording material, including “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” (which featured Fats Waller on piano). When Harry Douglas went into the Army, he was replaced by Leroy Wayman, who in turn was replaced by Rhett Butler. Douglas returned to the group in 1946 and the Deep River Boys began enjoying their biggest success, appearing on Milton Berle’s and Kate Smith’s shows and touring with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
Like many vocal groups in their day, the Deep River Boys had more success with live performance than record sales, and it wasn’t until 1948’s “Recess in Heaven” that they enjoyed their first hit. Unfortunately, the newer R&B was just then emerging and their gospel sound was being pushed aside by popular vocal groups like the Dominoes, the Orioles, and the Ravens. Unlike the 5 Royales (a gospel group who began recording R&B sides for Apollo), the Deep River Boys were reluctant to change; instead, they followed the path of another great gospel group of the ’40s — the Delta Rhythm Boys — and began performing more often in Europe.
With various changes in personnel, The Deep River Boys continued performing and recording well into the 1980s, however none of the founding members were in the group at the time.
To get an idea what some of these groups sounded like early on, these session recordings feature the group in a non-gospel setting, something they switched back and forth from many times.