To paraphrase one of James Brown’s best-known descriptions, you could make a good case that the Delta Rhythm Boys were ‘the hardest working close-rhythm singing group in show business’. Of course, there have been many combos that could make the same claim, but it would be difficult to top the longevity, versatility, and wide range of experiences enjoyed by the group.
Beginning way back in the 1930s and stretching for over fifty years, the group’s career spanned everything from hit songs like “Dry Bones” (see video in earlier post) and “Take The ‘A’ Train,” to backing up stars like Ella Fitzgerald and others. They also appeared in countless movies, toured extensively, and in later years even showed up on TV from time to time.
It all started way back in the mid-1930s, when a group of Oklahoma college guys moved to New Orleans. Kelsey Pharr, Carl Jones, Traverse Crawford, and Otha Lee Gaines had already worked together as singers, and when they met pianist Rene DeKnight the stage was set for the group’s success.
For the next five decades the Delta Rhythm Boys would build a solid career, even through occasional changes in personnel. As early R&B evolved into doo-wop they continued to prosper, and the rise of rock and roll didn’t slow them down much, although they did eventually relocate to Europe. The remaining members of the group would continue to perform into the 1980s before finally retiring.