Discover more from God's Music Is My Life
The Glorious Gospel of Peacock Records [Expanded]
A guide to some of the best gospel music from a powerhouse imprint.
Thanks to all of you who have become paid subscribers to #GodsMusicIsMyLife! This newsletter is intentionally free for all—-there are no entries blocked by a paywall. You can support this work by becoming a paid subscriber for $8 a month. To do so, simply click here!
In my latest piece for UDiscoverMusic, I got to expound on the incredible history of Don Robey’s Peacock Records, an incredible catalog of thousands of recordings of gospel, R&B, blues, and soul that began in 1949. In the article, I detail the history of the label and highlight four of their artists (The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Dixie Hummingbirds, Inez Andrews and Archbishop Carl Bean) who have material currently available for streaming. You can read the article here.
The catalog that Robey cultivated was massive, but it wasn’t necessarily an ideal environment for artists. Likened by some to Lucky Luciano, Robey was an intimidating figure with a reputation for being ruthless in acquiring what and who he wanted. Little Richard, for instance, alleged he signed a contract with the label in 1953 only after being beaten. Ira Tucker of the Dixie Hummingbirds told a reporter years later, “If you had a deal with Don, you had to keep him with the deal (because) if he could talk you out of it, he would,” he said. “If he could scare you down, he would.”
When Robey sold the label to ABC in 1973, Lee Young enhanced the label’s gospel roster and helped bring gospel further into the mainstream. Artists like the aforementioned Inez Andrews, Tessie Hill, and Gloster Williams’ King James Version began to find an audience outside of gospel circles thanks to Young’s forward thinking production and ABC’s ability to market the music in unconventional ways.
Sadly, a large percentage of the Peacock catalog remains unavailable digitally. Here are a few of my favorites that are only available on YouTube.
King Louis Narcisse—Without the Lord (1962)
Victoria Hawkins—Homegoing (1962)
Detroit’s Victoria Hawkins may not have become a household name in gospel circles, but “Homegoing” is a song that has stood the test of time. Vanessa Bell Armstrong has recalled various interviews singing this song as she was growing up and a quick search on YouTube shows just show many people remember this song and continue to sing it. Ms. Hawkins died in 2011.
Liz Dargan & The Gospelettes—Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (1973)
This track, produced by the Dixie Hummingbirds’ Ira Tucker and Don Robey, exemplifies the ways that Peacock sought to take gospel into mainstream music. Carl Bean wrote in his memoir, I Was Born This Way, that when Lee Young assumed A&R duties at the label that he asked Bean to produce Dargan, but he lacked the confidence. While critics compared her to Mahalia Jackson, she bore a more powerful vocal resemblance to The Davis Sisters’ Ruth Davis with her gutbucket delivery. Dargan’s catalog infuses her traditional roots (she was a member of Inez Andrews’ Andrewettes in the 1960s) with the funk-soul fusion that was beginning to make its way into gospel.