Soul Stirrers To Enter Gospel Hall Of Fame

Group was led by Sam Cooke in the 1950s.

The Soul Stirrers — whose members once included soul crooner Sam Cooke — top this year's list of inductees into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

The group, whose induction into the Detroit museum was announced last week, influenced musicians far beyond the church. Those influences included soul greats Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, according to Craig Werner, who teaches African-American music history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

"The Soul Stirrers ranked up there with great quartets such as the Swan Silvertones," Werner said. "What set them apart was their influence on soul and early rock 'n' roll."

The group's best-known incarnation featured Cooke, from 1950–56. The tenor sang lead on several songs, including "Peace in the Valley" (RealAudio excerpt). After he left, he went on to a successful secular career, with such hits as "You Send Me" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Wonderful World" (RealAudio excerpt). Cooke died in 1964.

Cooke's embrace of spiritual and secular music set the tone for many contemporary gospel artists, hall president David Gough said.

"Gospel's not just for Sundays anymore," Gough said, referring to such current crossover acts as Kirk Franklin and Trin-I-tee 5-7. It's music that gets people through hard times, even if they're not Christian, he said.

The Soul Stirrers began performing in the 1930s, becoming prominent during the '40s, under the leadership of R.L. Harris, who turned the foursome into a quintet with a featured vocalist. Harris left in 1950 and was replaced by Cooke. Cooke brought the group its widest appeal before he left, in 1956, for his solo career.

The Soul Stirrers continued to record throughout the '60s, even after Cooke's replacement, Johnnie Taylor, also left to pursue a secular career.

This year's other inductees include solo artist Brother Joe May and quartet the Pilgrim Travelers. Inductees are chosen by the hall's board of directors, gospel artists, radio personalities and fans. Gough founded the hall in 1995.

The hall's induction dinner will be Oct. 21 in Detroit.