Highly regarded by Thomas A. Dorsey, Clara Ward, and Mahalia Jackson, gospel singer Georgia Peach was born Clara Hudman in Atlanta on October 10, 1899 to Esther Hudman, a devoutly religious woman who raised three children by herself. While they were quite young, Clara and her brothers Ralph and Luther formed a trio and sang for the congregation at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. Clara became well known throughout Atlanta's African-American religious community as a talented, impromptu vocalist who specialized in "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and "Daniel in the Lion's Den." Among her friends at that time was a boy nearly ten years her junior who would eventually sermonize and make records as Rev. C.J. Johnson. At the age of 16, Clara quit school and, with permission from the deacons of Mt. Moriah, moved in with the family of Rev. T.T. Gholston, serving as a nurse for Mrs. Gholston, who eventually succumbed to an incurable disease. Only six months after losing his wife, the Reverend married 18-year-old Clara, who was by then anchoring the household as cook and surrogate mother for his two young boys. This union met with considerable resistance from the church members who objected to a mature, recently widowed man of God marrying a considerably younger woman who had resided with the family while his deceased wife was still alive. Attempts at reconciliation through carefully worded sermons and public displays of proper behavior did nothing to dispel the general disapproval, which must have worn away at the Reverend, for after a few years he began hitting the bottle. One Sunday morning he tried to deliver a sermon while intoxicated, grew confused and was unable to finish -- an unforgivable transgression and the last straw as far as his Baptist congregation was concerned. Ostracized and driven from the pulpit, Gholston took Clara and his sons with him to Detroit where he was able to start over with a fresh congregation, although alcoholism appears to have sabotaged their marriage as they split up after relocating to New York City.
According to Clara herself, the turning point in her life and work was the transition from the Baptists to the Pentecostals as she joined Bishop Robert C. Lawton's Refuge Church of Our Lord. She made her first recordings -- as Sister Clara Hudman -- for the Okeh label on Friday, December 12, 1930, assisted by Deacon Leon Davis and Sisters Jordan and Norman, individuals who backed Reverend J.M. Gates on his records during the years 1927-1930. Perhaps it was Gates who put in a word for her with the management at Okeh, for they shared the same studio on the same day and she had some involvement with his congregation back in Atlanta. Her best performance from this session, a fine interpretation of Rev. Charles Albert Tindley's "Stand by Me," is prized for its soulful immediacy and hints at where she was heading as a trailblazing gospel artist. Hudman, whose name is frequently seen listed as Hudmon, was also identified as Clara Belle Gholston and Clara Gholston Brock or Brook. In 1931 and 1932, she recorded at least two versions of "When the Saints Go Marching In," one of which found her in a collaborative duo billed as Rev. Snowball & Sunshine. Her career was bolstered by a great deal of touring and recording, and especially by an appearance at Radio City Music Hall in 1939. By October, 1942, she was recording for Decca with a male vocal group and billed as Georgia Peach. Subsequent achievements and a string of recordings for the Candy, Dot, and Savoy labels place her squarely in league with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Madame Ernestine B. Washington and Mahalia Jackson. Georgia Peach passed on in 1966. Her recordings have gradually become available in reissue compilations, and an excellent sampling was released in 2005 by the Gospel Friend label under the title Lord Let Me Be More Humble in This World. A truly comprehensive survey of her complete works, however, has yet to be assembled. ~ arwulf arwulf