Ira Tucker: Dixie Hummingbirds lead singer

Ira Tucker fronted the gospel group the Dixie Hummingbirds for 70 years. His soulful singing and flamboyant performances influenced James Brown and Jackie Wilson, while the Drifters and the Temptations took the template of the Dixie Hummingbirds into the charts in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

The group had their own taste of secular success when they guested on There Goes Rhymin' Simon, the 1973 solo album by Paul Simon inspired by his love of doo-wop and gospel. Their heavenly harmonies on "Tenderness" and especially "Loves Me Like a Rock", a reworking of the group's 1968 single, helped the album reach the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. The following year, the Dixie Hummingbirds won a Grammy award for their own version of "Loves Me Like a Rock".

Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 1925, Ira Tucker sang lead with the Gospel Carriers in his early teens. In 1938, taking part in a battle of the groups, James B. Davis, who had founded the Dixie Hummingbirds in 1928, spotted Tucker, as well as Willie Bobo, bass vocalist from the Heavenly Gospel Singers, and recruited them both. For years, they scratched a living performing at churches for a few dollars. "If you weren't working, they put you in jail," Tucker recalled of their days touring the segregated South. "So we stayed busy, all the time. It was tough, but we had the courage enough to keep it going. It's been a long journey, but it always seems to keep getting better."

The group moved to Philadelphia and began appearing on the radio station WCAU. After adding a baritone, Beachy Thompson, and a second tenor, Jack Walker, and signing to the Peacock label in 1952, they issued a run of singles, combining gospel standards – "Jesus Walked the Water", "Jesus Hold My Hand" – with material written by Tucker, who drew on his own experiences and concerns – "Let's Go Out to the Programs" – and added a dash of humour – "Christian Automobile". The Sixties saw them performing at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem and receiving a standing ovation at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival. Later, they worked with Stevie Wonder and Dr John.

By the time the group released their last album, Still Keeping It Real. . . The Last Man Standing, in 2006, Tucker was indeed the last surviving member of the Fifties line-up, and its leader following the retirement of Davis in 1984. The Dixie Hummingbirds had recently embarked on their 80th anniversary tour. "When I started with the Hummingbirds, for the black man there was nothing in America," Tucker said in 2005. "But we kept on keeping on."

Pierre Perrone

Ira B. Tucker, singer and songwriter: born Spartanburg, South Carolina 17 May 1925; married Louise Archie (one son); died Philadelphia 24 June 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'