Dixie Hummingbirds honored

June 15, 2017 GMT

The legacy of Gospel music is being recognized during Black Music Month.

A Dixie Hummingbirds historical marker was placed outside the group’s rehearsal site on June 6 at 2435 College Ave., across from Girard College in North Philadelphia. Citations from the offices of state Sen. Vincent Hughes and Mayor John Kenney were given to the family of the Grammy Award winning group’s manager, James B. Davis.

This was followed by a VIP reception for the Davis family and guests at the Charles L. Blockson Afro American Collection at Temple University. The Sons of the Birds did a commemorative concert in honor of the Dixie Hummingbirds at Drexel University’s Mandell Theatre to celebrate gospel music.

And there is still more historical milestones to come, according to the Rev. Joseph Williams, the youngest living member of the original Dixie Hummingbirds.

“We are so pleased that James B. Davis has gotten the recognition he deserved,” Williams said. “We are disappointed that Howard Carroll could not be with us today. He is now 92-years-old and took ill as he was trying to get dressed to come. He did wish us well and is very excited about the historical marker being placed.

“Gospel music is something that must be preserved,” Williams said. “The African American community understood the importance of this music, because it is what help us make it. Too many today are stealing our music and claiming it as theirs. This marker helps to permanently show that this is part of our faith heritage and is something we must preserve.”

Among those present were Jewell Moore from Hughes’ office, Philip Horn, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts executive director, and Heather Doughty, the PCA’s deputy executive director.

“The Dixie Hummingbirds is important to Pennsylvania given their history,” Horn said. “Their music is one of the greatest gifts. Other art forms like jazz, rock and roll and much of the music we hear had its roots the music the Dixie Hummingbirds played. It was created in this country and it a uniquely American art form. So, I am honored to be here as history is made.”

“We feel really blessed today,” said Nancy Moses, chair of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. “How lucky we are that we have this phenomenal music represented by a government commissioned marker here. Just knowing that this is for the Dixie Hummingbirds is just fantastic.”

Diane Taylor, the curator for the Blockson Collection at Temple, welcomed the Davis family and other guests to the reception. Davis family members like Betty Chambers and her children Denise and Marlow Chambers had many memories of how meticulous James B. Davis was about etiquette, social graces and time management.

His great granddaughter, Tondalaya Davis, flew in from Atlanta. She was among those who thought it was significant day. “June 6 would have been my great-grandfather’s 102nd birthday. It is significant to have the marker actually placed on his birthday though the organizers didn’t know it was his birthday,” she said.

The Dixie Hummingbirds were founded by Davis in North Philadelphia in 1928. It was his vision to have a faith-based vocal ensemble the finesse that later earned them the nickname, “The Gentlemen of Gospel.” Among the Dixie Hummingbird’s greatest honors was a 1974 Grammy for “Loves Me Like a Rock,” and the National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship in 2000. The Dixie Hummingbirds are also featured at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.