Dixie Hummingbirds founder dies

April 25, 2007 at 6:28 PM

PHILADELPHIA, April 25 (UPI) -- James Davis, founding member and patriarch of the world-renown gospel group, the Dixie Hummingbirds, has died in Philadelphia at the age of 90.

Davis, who died April 17, was the Hummingbirds leader from the group's inception in 1928 until he retired in 1984, the group said Wednesday.

The Hummingbirds helped to break down racial barriers, performing to integrated audiences along with Billie Holiday, the Golden Gate Quartet and Paul Robeson, among others. The 'Birds were among the first groups to bring gospel performance to secular venues such as the Apollo Theater, Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival.

In 1973, Davis and the Hummingbirds collaborated with Paul Simon on "Loves Me (Like a Rock)," propelling the group to broader fame. The Dixie Hummingbirds also won a Grammy for its own rendition.

Davis was inducted into both the Gospel and Vocal Group Halls of Fame and, in 2000, was honored by the National Heritage Fellowship. He last appeared publicly in October 2005 when Philadelphia unveiled a mural and named a street in honor of the Dixie Hummingbirds.

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