Zion Harmonizers
Thank You Lord
SONO 6007
 
The Songs:
 
Thank You Lord
He'll Be There
I Can Call On The Lord
Everyday Will Be Sunday
Down By The Riverside
He Watches Over Me
We Need Jesus
Ezekiel
Live For Jesus
Saints
Last Mile
Steal Away
My Record Will Be There
Old Noah
Elijah
Old Blind Barnabas
Jonah
Last Month Of The Year
 
The Singers & Players:
 
Sherman Washington: Vocal. Leader
Nolan Washington: Vocal
Louis Jones: Bass Vocal
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 in mankind.
            Not that the Zion Harmonizers are old-timey.  On the contrary, they're in the forefront of modern gospel quartet singing.  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.  Then, too, 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 "Steal Away."  Their respect for tradition has brought the Zion Harmonizers through more than half a century on the gospel road.  And, 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 neighborhoods.  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 traditional manner.
            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.  In 1948  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 and Scandanavia.
            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.  The recorded again in 1958 for Gotham, accompanied by the Dixie Hummingbirds guitarist, Howard Carroll.  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.  New record deals also materialized.  In 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.  They 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   voice; 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.
Lynn Abbott
(Lynn Abbott)