Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives

Hutchins Library
Special Collection & Archives


Appalachian Music Fellowship Program - 2007

Kevin Kehrberg

Reual Thomas Quartets (428 KB)
Renfro Valley Staff Gospel Quartets: 1940-1950
(164 KB)
Cash Quartet (105 KB)
Fellowship Activity Final Report (33.2 KB)

Kevin Kehrberg (June - July, 2007) is currently a doctoral candidate in musicology at the University of Kentucky. The subject of his dissertation in progress is the music of famed gospel composer and publisher, Albert E. Brumley.

His Fellowship work at Berea June-July 2007 focused on the gospel quartets documented in Berea's radio program collections, especially the Renfro Valley Gatherin' and other programs John Lair aired on network radio from Renfro Valley in the 1940s and 1950s.

Kevin's efforts focused on analyzing performing styles and repertoires, understanding stylistic similarities and differences within a concentrated geographic region, and developing a more complete account of John Lair's association with Albert Brumley. He also looked closely at John Lair's use of gospel music in the radio programming, quartet contests, and annual all-night singing events he produced, and the impact this activity had on the greater Renfro Valley community. Fieldwork included attending present-day Renfro Valley performances, conducting oral history interviews, and identifying a collection of rare gospel quartet radio recordings from the 1950s.

Quartet profiles and audio samples excerpted from Kevin Kehrberg’s Fellowship Activity Report documenting key persons, quartets, repertoire and singing styles associated with southern gospel music activity at Renfro Valley 1940-1950.

Crusaders Quartet

Crusaders QuartetThe Crusaders were organized in the late 1930s by Clinton County singing school teacher, Reual Thomas (lead) along with wife, Flossie (alto), and neighbors, Marvin York (bass) and Leslie Andrews (baritone and guitar accompaniment). They sang regularly on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, and John Lair's more subdued, scripted radio programs such as Monday Night in Renfro Valley and the Renfro Valley Gatherin' until disbanding in 1944.

They were generally typical of southern gospel quartets of the time. However with both male and female members, their sound was more mild and rounded than all-male groups, then the majority in Kentucky's gospel quartet scene. Their repertoire included a heavy dose of Albert E. Brumley material and leaned toward newer, more recently composed songs that could place them apart from other groups. (More. 434KB)

The Four Tones

The Four TonesReual Thomas organized the Four Tones in mid to late 1944 as a replacement for the Crusaders. While on Renfro Valley business in the south, he recruited Georgians, Carroll "Shorty" Bradford (tenor) and Paul "Curley" Kinsey (bass). Combined with Howard Steele from Corbin, Kentucky (baritone & guitar), the new group took their name from a no longer existing one that had included Bradford, Kinsey, and future gospel star, Lee Roy Abernathy. No group recordings have survived, however Renfro Valley radio scripts strongly suggest that the Four Tones maintained much of the same repertoire that the Crusaders had performed. The original configuration held only briefly over the period during 1944-1945 that the group was in action. Replacements moving in and out at various times included Herschel Collins, Glenn Pennington, and Flossie Thomas. (More. 434KB)

Rusty Gate Quartet
Rusty Gate QuartetThe Rusty Gate quartet was a Renfro Valley radio presence during the period 1944-1948. Consisting of various staff performers, their repertoire drew heavily from spirituals and classic black gospel songs. Their performing style reflected the famous jubilee quartets of the 1930s and 40s. Original personnel included Glenn Pennington, Jerry Behrens, and the Turner Brothers (Red and Lige). Others over time included Wade Baker, Carroll "Shorty" Bradford, Bob Simmons, and Troy Gibbs. With performances that were tight and polished, the group at its prime were heard often on both the Barn Dance and Gatherin'. Particular highlights were Behrens's guitar work and Pennington's skillful bass singing. (More. 173KB)
Gloryland Quartet
Gloryland QuartetThe Gloryland Quartet was heard at Renfro Valley for only about a year, 1948-1949. The group was made up of singing duo, Shug and Ray Mulkey, fiddler, Shorty Sheehan, and comedian, Manuel "Old Joe" Clark. In the quartet, Ray and Shug respectively sang lead and tenor while Sheehan and Clark handled baritone and bass.

Broadcast recordings and a repertoire list suggest that in part, they continued the Rusty Gate's emphases on spirituals. However, they also followed other country radio quartets in covering Hank Williams songs such as "I'll Have a New Life," "Lord Lead Me On," "I'll Fly Away," "After the Sunrise," and Bill Monroe's arrangement of "Drifting Too Far From the Shore."
(More. 173KB)
Seventy Six Quartet
Seventy Six QuartetIn February 1947, Reual Thomas reformed the Crusaders under a new name, the Seventy Six Quartet, probably to distinguish themselves from two other south-central Kentucky gospel groups then going by the name "Crusaders." Personnel, in addition to Thomas, included wife, Flossie (alto) and cousins, Clay and Jeff Colson. With Flossie and the Colsons being later replaced at various times by Edward Snell, Leslie Andrews, and Morris Gaskin, the quartet was a Renfro Valley radio fixture until about 1951.

Broadcast recordings reveal different guitar work than on any of the other Thomas quartet recordings. There are turnarounds between verses and at times a second guitar. Their long repertoire list reveals Thomas's preference for current singing convention favorites mixed in with some newer compositions. Over one-fifth of the songs are by composer Albert E. Brumley, along with strong showings by such others as Luther Presley, J.B. Coats, and Vep Ellis.
(More. 434KB)
Cedar Springs Baptist Church Choir
Cedar Springs Baptist Church ChoirReual Thomas' singing school teaching resulted in guest radio appearances by school "graduates" from time-to-time. One such group were singers from Casey County's Cedar Springs Baptist Church who sang on the Renfro Valley Gatherin' 1948. Lair depicted the group as an "old-fashioned singing school" despite the fact that they were singing newer seven-shape gospel hymns. Also, perhaps to give the program an old timey feel, the group sings the shapes, a practice common in the older, or "Fasola," shape-note singing (e.g. "Sacred Harp" singing), but one that is somewhat rare in seven-shape, or "Doremi," gospel music performance. (More. 434KB)
Cash Quartet
Cash QuartetThe Cash quartet from Rockcastle County, Kentucky, formed around 1956 as the result of singing together at the Ottawa Baptist Church. Members included Walter Cash, wife Reba, Walter's sister Joanne, and R.H. Hamm. Like many other amateur gospel groups at the time, they were not interested in commercial recording. They sung only occasionally on the nationally heard Renfro Valley Gatherin'. However they gained a local radio following through their own weekly program, Sinclair Sunday Serenade, over Renfro Valley's WRVK. They were busy as well with frequent appearances at local and regional gospel singing events, something they continued after they stopped radio performing in the late-1960s. (More. 104KB)

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