The Delta Rhythm Boys

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The Delta Rhythm Boys
Delta Rhythm Boys.JPG
The quartet with pianist Rene DeKnight. Top l to r: Lee Gaines, DeKnight. Center: Carl Jones. Bottom l to r: Traverse Crawford, Kelsey Pharr.
Background information
OriginUnited States United States
GenresR&B, Jazz, Black gospel
Years active1934 (1934) – 1987 (1987)

The Delta Rhythm Boys were an American vocal group active for over 50 years from 1934 to 1987.


The group was first formed at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma, in 1934 by Elmaurice Miller, Traverse Crawford, Essie Joseph Adkins, and Otho Lee Gaines. In 1936, they moved to Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana, where they worked under Frederick Hall and took the name Frederick Hall Quartet. Clinton Holland (soon replaced by Carl Jones) and Kelsey Pharr replaced Miller and Adkins. Rene DeKnight became their pianist.

The group appeared often in the 1940s on radio programs such as Amos and Andy and The Joan Davis Show, and performed on Broadway in the shows, Sing Out the News and Hot Mikado. They also appeared extensively in film—15 of them,[1] including in You'll Never Get Rich with Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth. Aside from their own recordings, they served as background vocalists for Charlie Barnet, Mildred Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ruth Brown.

One of their most successful releases was a vocal version of the Glenn Miller instrumental hit "I Dreamt I Dwelt in Harlem" from 1941 with lyrics by Buddy Feyne and music by Glenn Miller Orchestra arranger and composer Jerry Gray, Ben Smith, and Leonard Ware.

Their 1950s version of the spiritual song "Dem Bones" was a hit record for them (although recorded with the name "Dry Bones.") [2] They performed it on television extensively.

Later years[edit]

In the 1950s, they began to amass a large fan base in Europe, particularly in the Nordic countries where they recorded Swedish, Danish and Finnish songs mixing English and the local languages. Meanwhile, their fame was diminishing in America, so in 1956, the group relocated to Europe and performed there for a few more decades. Billy Moore toured with them as an accompanist in the 1960s.

In 1960, Kelsey Pharr died in Hawaii and Carl Jones left for personal reasons. They were replaced by Hugh Bryant and Herb Coleman. Coleman and Crawford died in the 1970s and were replaced by Walter Trammell and Ray Beatty.

Lee Gaines died of cancer in Helsinki on July 15, 1987.[3] At Gaines's funeral, Hugh Bryant collapsed while performing, and died, apparently from a heart attack.[4]

The Delta Rhythm Boys were later inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

The Delta Rhythm Boys version of "Alouette" was used in a commercial for Target in 2012.



First tenor

  • 1934–1944: Elmaurice Miller
  • 1940–1944: Clinton Holland
  • 1944–1960: Carl Jones
  • 1960–1974: Herb Coleman
  • 1974–1987: Walter Trammell

Second tenor

  • 1934–1975: Traverse Crawford
  • 1975–1987: Ray Beatty


  • 1934–1940: Essie Adkins
  • 1940–1943: Harry Lewis
  • 1943–1960: Kelsey Pharr
  • 1951–1954: Cliff Holland (Temporary replacement for Pharr)
  • 1962–1987: Hugh Bryant


  1. ^ Warner, Jay (2006). American Singing Groups: A History from 1940s to Today. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 9780634099786. Retrieved July 24, 2016.
  2. ^ Discogs: The Delta Rhythm Boys – Dry Bones,
  3. ^ Obituaries: Lee Gaines, 73, a Jazz Singer New York Times, July 21, 1987.
  4. ^ Obituaries: Hugh Bryant Dies as He Sings Tribute at Lee Gaines Funeral New York Times, July 24, 1987.

Works cited

External links[edit]