The Detroiters

One of the most successful gospel groups of the late 1940s, the Detroiters were led by Oliver Green, a native of Texas who began his career during the Depression era as a member of the Southern Wonders. Upon settling in the Motor City in 1938, he formed the Evangelist Singers of Detroit, a quartet which hosted their own local radio and earned some measure of national popularity as a result of their frequent tours with Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The Evangelists were also the first group to cut the hit topical song "Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt," which was composed by their booking manager Otis Jackson; after signing on with the Detroit radio station WGC, bandleader Horace Heidt insisted they change their name to the Detroiters, a more secular moniker which by extension would allow the addition of pop and folk material to their repertoire. Their frequent radio appearances led to a steady schedule of live bookings, and in addition to high lead Green, their ranks grew to include lower lead Leroy Barnes, first tenor Dempsey Harrison, baritone Bill Johnson, bass Robert Thomas, and pianist Nathaniel Howard. It was this Detroiters lineup which entered the studio on August 14, 1951 to record the first of three singles for the Specialty label, "Let Jesus Lead You"; the same session also yielded a follow-up, combining "I Trust in Jesus" with "Ride On King Jesus." A second date from 1952 spawned a rousing "Old Time Religion," but it was their last Specialty effort; for reasons unknown, label chief Art Rupe did not take a shine to the group, and they were soon dropped. Although Barnes later exited to join the Flying Clouds, the Detroiters continued touring regionally into the early 1960s. ~ Jason Ankeny

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