Sherman Washington: Vocal. Leader
Howard Bowie: Vocal, Vocal Director
Joseph Warrick: Vocal, Keyboards, Musical Director
Willie Williams: Vocal, Guitar
The gospel quartet tradition embraces a proud, unbroken
history that extends from slavery times.
The binding ingredient of this uncommonly resilient tradition is harmony
- beautiful, spirit lifting, four-part harmony.
Of course, contemporary trends in gospel quartet singing have
wandered from the venerable harmony aesthetic.
Bass singers have practically disappeared, and amplified instruments
have generally run over what's left of the singing.
That is why it is such a pleasure to discover
a group like the Zion Harmonizers.
True to their name, they still harmonize
, and they still
cling to the optimistic notion that harmony in song can bring out harmony
Not that the Zion Harmonizers are old-timey.
On the contrary, they're in the forefront of modern gospel quartet
Their arrangements of
familiar hymns like "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "
Down By The Riverside" are thoroughly original and up-to-date.
But, they never forsake their harmony
for form or fashion, and their musical accompaniment, though plenty exciting,
is never overbearing.
when occasion arises, the group can always reach back for an old Golden Gate
Quartette style jubilee song like "Noah" - Sherman Washington specializes
in those percussive Biblical recitations - or a timeless Negro Spiritual like
respect for tradition has brought the Zion Harmonizers through more than half
a century on the gospel road.
at this point in time, they are the top quartet in New Orleans.
The Zion Harmonizers trace their origins to 1939, when Benjamin Maxon
founded the quartet among teenaged friends in the Zion City community.
Zion City is one of those lost New Orleans
It runs, loosely,
from Broad street, up Washington Ave. to South Lopez, where it overlaps into
Gert Town, then follows Earhardt back to Broad.
It's not on the tourist route, but it
is on the gospel map, marking the birthplace of the most powerful female quartet
of gospel's Golden Era, the Southern Harps.
The leader of the Southern Harps was Benjamin Maxon's aunt,
Alberta French Johnson, and she introduced him to quartet singing in the purely
During the early 1940's the Zion Harmonizers opened programs for the
Southern Harps, and they sang their way through much of the State.
New voices in the group during those early years included Sherman
Washington, who first came aboard in 1942, after meeting Benjamin Maxon on
the job at Higgens Shipyard.
Maxon was called to preach,
and the job of managing the Zion Harmonizers eventually fell to Washington.
Under his dynamic leadership, the group has blazed a trail of gospel
harmony from the churches of Zion City, to the major festival sites of Europe
In 1956 they launched their first weekly radio broadcast over WMRY,
sponsored by Schiro's Shoe Store, and they made their first commercial recording
for the Dallas based Avant label.
recorded again in 1958 for Gotham, accompanied by the Dixie Hummingbirds guitarist,
Then a mid-60's
effort appeared on the local Booker label.
In recent years, some of these rare, historical Zion Harmonizers
recordings have surfaced on the collector-oriented "Gospel Heritage"
reissue series from England.
In 1969 the Zion Harmonizers were invited to sing at the first annual
New Orleans and Heritage Festival, held on the old Congo Square site.
Consequently, Sherman Washington was asked
to coordinate gospel programming for the burgeoning event.
Under his continued guidance, the "Gospel
Tent" has become the most talked about venue of the world's most successful
music festival, and the New Orleans gospel community has attained the highest
mainstream profile of any in America.
Jazz Fest opened the Zion Harmonizers to new audiences at colleges
and international folk festival.
record deals also materialized.
1974, a banner year, they cut two albums, one for the Flying Fish label, the
other, a unique collaboration with New Orleans trumpeter Wallace Davenport,
for Pontchartrain Records.
also won the New Orleans Chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America's
"Grand Staff Award" for "Best Quartet" that year.
Their first recording for the Sound of
New Orleans label,"Never Alone", appeared in 1982.
Over the years, the Zion Harmonizers have maintained a consistently
respectable roster of singers, all church men.
The current membership, featured on this Sound of New Orleans recording,
includes Sherman Washington, manager and lead voice; Nolan Washington, assistant
manager and lead voice; Joseph Warrick, musical director and utility voice;
Howard Bowie, vocal director and utility voice; Brazella Briscoe, tenor voice;
Louis Jones, bass
Willie Williams, guitarist and utility voice; and Danny Allen, drums.
While blessed with a spiraling international reputation, the Zion harmonizers
remain a pillar of the New Orleans gospel community.
Most of their programs and song services are still conducted
in small churches within a hundred mile radius of the City.
Their yearly Anniversary Program, featuring
the Dixie Hummingbirds, is the biggest event on the local gospel calendar,
and Sherman Washington's Saturday morning radio show on WYLD, now in its twenty-eighth
year, has become a New Orleans tradition in itself.
Whether they're singing for thousands
at a festival in Italy or dozens at a church in La Place or Thibodaux, the
Zion Harmonizers sing unfailingly to bring down the Holy Spirit and to have
a good time in the name of the Lord.