Kings of Harmony
The Kings of Harmony formed in 1929 as the BYPU Specials, named for the Baptist Young People's Union at Mt Sinai Baptist Church to which the then-teenaged members belonged. The four practiced under the leadership of Professor Wylie, a trainer for several groups, including the Birmingham Jubilees. While touring to BYPU meetings at other churches they attracted the notice of the Famous Blue Jay Singers, who invited them to travel with the group. Later, Son Dunham of the Dunham Jubilees married Morgan's mother and added his experience in molding the young group.
In the summer of 1933 the BYPU Specials took on a manager, Henry Thornton, and embarked on their first professional tour through Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia, hooking up with the Dixie Hummingbirds of Greenville, South Carolina along the way. Finding opportunity in Appalachian mining country, the Specials set up camp in Welch, West Virginia. They adopted the Kings of Harmony moniker in 1934 after winning a contest by that name sponsored by WCAU-AM in Philadelphia.
In 1934 William Ed Lewis joined the group as a fill-in singer. Thornton left the group's management to Turner soon later and the group made its way back through the South, setting up another temporary headquarters in Houston from which they toured all over East Texas. The group became known for its Mills Brothers-inspired treatment of the hymn Have You Any Time For Jesus, which they used as a theme song.
Well-received in Texas, the Kings found a regular engagement at Houston's Wright Hotel. That led to a 2:00 AM radio program and even a "Kings of Harmony Restaurant" venture, managed by Ed Lewis. In 1938 the group went back out on tour, adding singer Carey Bradley for a few months and continuing North as far as Cleveland, Ohio. There Bradley rejoined the group and took over arranging duties while Eugene Strong added his baritone voice, giving Lattimore more of a lead role. Local tenor Marion Thompson also joined the group, filling-in where needed.
By 1942 the Kings of Harmony were Cleveland's premier vocal quartet. They headlined a show at the Cleveland Coliseum that brought 3,500 fans into the seats. Turner resigned for health reasons. The following years saw numerous line-up changes as Lattimore became an ordained minister and Bradley assumed more duties as musical director. He led the group to New York City and entered the recording studio for the first time, cutting six tracks for Manor Records.
In 1945 Lattimore formally withdrew from the Kings of Harmony to focus on preaching. Morgan married and settled down in New York. Lowry soon followed, leaving the group with none of its original members by 1946. Dickie Freeman joined the group as a bass singer, leaving to join the Fairfield Four right before a much-anticipated double bill with the Kings in Birmingham. George McCurch replaced him for a few months, followed by a string of short-termers and special appearances from Morgan. Charlie Colvert was brought in to sing lead, along with Sonny McLocklin on tenor.
More turnover brought an almost entirely new line-up in the early 1950s, featuring co-leads Willie Morganfield and Walter Bugett under the direction of Pop Strong. James Williams, Lee Ingram and Norman Spann all joined the group in those years, with Williams taking some managerial duties. That line-up recorded a few tracks in 1952 behind jazz singer Phyllis Branch for Tuxedo Records in New York. The group disbanded a year or two later.
Bill Morgan resurrected the name as the National Kings of Harmony for a few appearances in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He brought together Dan Elliot, Booker T. Crosby, John Brockington and Harold Winn to sing with him. That group toured for a few years and made a few unreleased recordings.
- Funk, Ray (Winter 1990) "The Kings of Harmony." Rejoice! Magazine.