Emily Drinkard, later known as Cissy Houston, was only five years old when she joined her sister, Anne, and brothers, Nicholas and Larry, in a family gospel group, the Drinkard Four. Another sister, Lee, who served as the group's manager, later became the mother of soulful pop vocalist, Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick. Expanding with the addition of vocalists, Ann Moss and Marie Epps, the group was renamed, the Drinkard Singers. Performing regularly at the New Hope Baptist Church, in Newark, they recorded several singles for the Savoy, Chess and Verve labels and a live album, A Joyful Noise, for RCA. They became the first gospel group to sing with Mahalia Jackson when they appeared at the National Baptist Convention in the early-1950s. After stirring the crowd at the Newport Jazz Festival, in 1957, with their devotional harmonies, they became the first gospel group signed by RCA.
The driving inspiration behind the Drinkard Singers was the four original singer's father, Nitch Drinkard, a Newark factory worker, who with their mother, Delia, raised eight children. In a late-1990s interview, Emily "Cissy" Drinkard recalled, "To my father, gospel singing was a ministry, there was a message in the music. He saw us as junior ambassadors -- not just sowing the gospel but also reaping the blessing of singing God's word in our own lives."
Although she formed a new group, the Drinkard Ensemble, in the late-1950s, and served as an inspiration for Alex Bradford's play, Your Arm's Too Short To Box With God, Anne Drinkard shifted her focus from the concert stage and recording studio to a ministry of music. A high school student when she married Felix Moss, in 1946, she was replaced by Judy Guirons, later known as Judy Clay, who had been adopted by Lee Drinkard in her teens. ~ Craig Harris, Rovi