The Dixie Hummingbirds are a strange example of a group that has had an immensely long and fertile history as a group but which has attracted next to no interest from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In looking at this particular group, as is the case with an artist like Frank Sinatra, for example, among other acts not included, we are not attempting to argue here that the Dixie Hummingbirds are a rock & roll group. In both cases the act has a long career history that includes Grammy nominations and awards going into the 2000’s, a song of theirs in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and Billboard hits, albeit (unsurprisingly) on the R&B side . Yet the influence of the Dixie Hummingbirds is a complex one, as complex as the recording history of the group itself, a tale of how a large and somewhat rotating group of vocalists sought to rise above the poverty and racism of their native Dixie and sought not only to make music, but also to make a decent career out of their music and to make a statement about their worth as musicians and people.
The Influence Of The Dixie Hummingbirds
The Influence of the Dixie Hummingbirds can be understood in various ways. As far as a group is concerned, they have had without a doubt cultural influence that has been recognized by many within and outside of the music community. In the early 1970’s, the group sang the backup vocals on Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like A Rock,” and their cover of the song was a Grammy-winning hit on the R&B charts. Their 1950’s work was on some of the earliest Billboard charts. Their hard Gospel music style, featuring shouting and showmanship, was copied by such Rock & Roll Hall of Fame members as Jackie Wilson and James Brown, and served as one of the key elements in the soul music that formed an essential part of rock & roll sensibility. Yet for the most part, the group themselves always remained deeply connected to the Gospel and church traditions of music, much like their Apollo music labelmate Mihalia Jackson, who has also been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence. Besides being in the Grammy and Vocalist Hall of Fame, the group was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship award in 2000 by the NEA, and has been the subject of an award-winning career retrospective book as well as a feature length documentary. The group is by no means an obscure one, but has not fully been recognized by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Fortunately, though, it is an oversight that can be corrected without any great difficulty.
Why The Dixie Hummingbirds Belong In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Whatever way you want to look at the Dixie Hummingbirds, they are worthy of recognition. When it comes to their historical significance, they pointed to a way that influences from the black church could end up in soul music, and from there into rock & roll music far outside of the black church itself. Even while remaining part of the mainstream and even traditional Gospel tradition themselves, their “hard Gospel” approach was one that was recognized by others and has allowed them a lengthy career that continues to this day of recording and performing songs that reflect their own personal experience as well as their faith. Admittedly, their group membership has been complicated over the course of decades of performance with lineup changes and the effects of death, but they still remain a vital group within the Gospel tradition, and the influence that they provided to rock & roll through soul is immense. Not only did their approach draw imitators, but they were vital interpreters of secular and gospel music and their recordings even provided a way for artists like Stevie Wonder to increase their success. And that is certainly all worthy of being an early influence for rock & roll.
Why Aren’t The Dixie Hummingbirds In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
It does appear that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been rather slow in inducting early influences. No early inductees have been added since 2018 and none were inducted at all between 2000 (Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole) and 2009 (Wanda Jackson). While some gospel groups and some vocal groups have been inducted, including the Orioles (1995) and the “5” Royales, the Dixie Hummingbirds have not yet joined their number, which is a shame.
Verdict: Put them in already. What more could they possibly do at this point?