The Soul Stirrers are an American gospel music group, whose career spans over eighty years. The group was a pioneer in the development of the quartet style of gospel, and a major influence of soul music, doo wop, and motown sound, some of the secular music that owed much to gospel.

The group was formed by Roy Crain, who had launched his first quartet, which sang in a jubilee style, in 1926 in Trinity, Texas. In the early 1930s, after Crain moved to Houston, he joined an existing group on the condition that it change its name to "the Soul Stirrers." The name "Soul Stirrers" yields from the description of one of Roy Crain's earlier quartets as "soul-stirring". Among the members of that group was R. (Rebert) H. Harris, who soon became its musical leader. The Soul Stirrers formed as a Jubilee quartet, transformed their sound, influenced by many hard gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Rebert Harris, also from Trinity, Texas, brought several changes to the Soul Stirrers that affected gospel quartet singing generally. He used a falsetto style that had its antecedents in African music, but which was new to the popular jubilee singing style of the time. He pioneered the "swing lead", in which two singers would share the job of leading the song, allowing virtuoso singers to increase the emotional intensity of the song as the lead passed between them without disturbing the four part harmony. That innovation led the Soul Stirrers, while still called a quartet, to acquire five members; later groups would have as many as seven but still consider themselves "quartets", which referred more to their style than their number.

The Soul Stirrers made other important changes in those years: ad-libbing lyrics, singing in delayed time, and repeating words in the background as both a rhythmic and emotional support for the lead singers. The Soul Stirrers along with other quartet performers, dropped the "flatfooted" style of jubilee quartets before them and expanded their repertoire from spirituals and traditional hymns to the newer gospel compositions. The group also loosened the rigid arrangements that jubilee quartets had favored to permit individual singers within the group more space for individual development.

In 1936 Alan Lomax recorded the Soul Stirrers for the Library of Congress's American music project under the Aladdin Record label. They later moved to Chicago, where they broadcast a weekly radio show (WIND) with other famous groups including Golden Gate Quartet, and The Famous Blue Jay Singers. As the gospel quartet style of singing became more popular, groups would perform in competitions called "song battles" to further increase the genre's popularity.

As World War II began, it became more difficult for many gospel quartet groups to make a living. This resulted in some quartets supplementing their income by doing "live performances at churches, schools and neighborhood centers," (Rubin). Despite the economic situation, throughout the 40's and leading into the 50's, many gospel quartet groups were able to pursue their careers successfully. The Soul Stirrer's nationwide touring gained them an even larger audience, as they delivered the emotional fervor that popular jubilee groups, such as The Golden Gate Quartet, did not.

The Soul Stirrers signed with Specialty Records, where they recorded a number of tracks, including "By and By" and "In that Awful Hour". Harris, the most popular member of the group, quit in late 1950 to form a new group. He was briefly replaced on lead by Paul Foster, then by Sam Cooke.

In retrospect, Sam Cooke seems like a perfect and obvious replacement for Harris, but in early 1951, much less so. Sam worked hard to emulate Harris's vocal style and Harris claims to have spent time training Sam Cooke to be his replacement which is debated by several sources; nevertheless, under Cooke, The Soul Stirrers underwent a change of image. Cooke was young and had a more sexual presence onstage and was, "the first singer to bring a younger crowd as well as the older shouting saints," (Heilbut).

One of the early singles with Cooke was "Jesus Gave Me Water", a major hit that brought the Soul Stirrers massive acclaim. Thomas L. Breuster was replaced by Bob King and, briefly, Julius Cheeks. When Cooke left in 1957 to pursue a career in pop music, the Soul Stirrers' preeminence in gospel was essentially over, though a brief period of success with Johnnie Taylor (an effective mimic of Cooke) sustained the group for a time. Various line-ups continued touring and recording throughout the last half of the century to a small and devoted following. The group — and all of its members — was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 as one of rock's Early Influences, and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000.

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Year Title Artist RatingReleases
1993 Jesus Gave Me Water The Soul Stirrers 1
2008 A Soul Stirring Reunion The Soul Stirrers 1
Heaven Is My Home The Soul Stirrers 1
I'd Trade a Lifetime The Soul Stirrers 1
Strength, Power, and Love The Soul Stirrers 1
The Heritage The Soul Stirrers 1

Album + Compilation

Year Title Artist RatingReleases
1959 The Soul Stirrers Featuring Sam Cooke The Soul Stirrers 1
1969 The Gospel Soul of Sam Cooke with The Soul Stirrers, Vol. 1 The Soul Stirrers 1
1971 The Gospel Soul of Sam Cooke with The Soul Stirrers, Vol. 2 The Soul Stirrers 1
1972 The Original Soul Stirrers Featuring Sam Cooke / Johnnie Taylor / Paul Foster / R.H. Harris The Soul Stirrers 1
1977 Gospel in My Soul (Heaven Is My Home) Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers 3
1989 In the Beginning Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers 1
1992 Sam Cooke With The Soul Stirrers Sam Cooke with The Soul Stirrers 1
1993 When the Saints Go Marching In The Soul Stirrers 1
1994 The Last Mile of the Way The Soul Stirrers 1
2002 The Complete Specialty Recordings Sam Cooke with The Soul Stirrers 1
2006 Specialty Profiles Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers 1
2007 Touch the Hem of His Garment: 23 Gospel Gems Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers 1


Year Title Artist RatingReleases
1951 Come, Let’s Go Back to God (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1951 Peace in the Valley (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1951 I’m Gonna Build on That Shore (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1952 How Far Am I From Canaan? (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1952 Just Another Day (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1953 He’ll Welcome Me (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1953 Jesus Paid the Debt (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1954 He’s My Friend Until the End (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1954 Jesus, I’ll Never Forget (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1955 Nearer to Thee (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1955 One More River (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1956 Wonderful (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1956 Pilgrim of Sorrow (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1956 Touch the Hem of His Garment (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1957 Were You There? (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 1
1962 Must Jesus Bear This Cross Alone (with Sam Cooke) The Soul Stirrers 2
1973 Just Another Day / Christ Is All Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers 1
1974 That’s Heaven to Me / Lord, Remember Me Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers 1

Unspecified type

Year Title Artist RatingReleases
The Lord Will Make a Way The Soul Stirrers 1

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