Hum along

The Gospel Hummingbirds

The Gospel Hummingbirds do not perform your average gospel music. Not that gospel music can ever be classified as “average,” but The Gospel Hummingbirds have earned a reputation of turning the genre on its head by infusing the traditionally energetic, faith-based music with a bit of blues and jazz. Band manager and member James Gibson Jr. refers to it as “R&G.”

“We call our music R and G—rhythm and gospel,” he says. “Our musical influences come from traditional and contemporary gospel music, as well as a strong blues and R&B.”

The group was founded in the 1960s by Joe Thomas Sr. In 1993, their album Steppin’ Out was nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album” category. It also received honors worldwide. Based out of Oakland, Calif., the band has since traveled around the world and gained an international following.

Like most gospel groups, the Hummingbirds started performing at their local church. In 1987, they began performing at jazz and blues nightclub Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland. The lineup has changed over the years, but the current group features vocalists Gibson, Charles Holland and Gerald Dyce and Morris LeGrande on vocals and guitar.

“Over the years, personnel changes have occurred, and the current guys are here as a result of these changes,” says Gibson. “Most of them have been in other music groups prior to coming to the ‘Birds.”

Gibson says that the song writing process is largely independent. Each member will write about his own life and experiences, and the rest of the group aids in turning an idea into a song.

“Most of our songs come from members in the group individually,” Gibson says. “On occasion, we will collaborate on some songs.”

Although their music is inspired by faith, Gibson says that it is able to reach people of all beliefs because of its unique sound and universal themes such as struggle, triumph, surrender and redemption. Some of the group’s songs are heavily influenced by the language and stories of the Bible, such as “Old Ship of Zion” and “Signs of the Judgment.”

“I think our music appeals to people of all faiths because of the simple messages of hope and faith that our songs bring,” he says. “Most of them are written with real life experiences influencing the lyrics.

In the past, the group has played with bands like The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, B.B. King, Etta James, Huey Lewis and The News, Otis Rush and the Dixie Hummingbirds, to name a few. They’ve also played in venues around the world, including Japan, Italy, France, Belgium and Australia. Gibson says that the economy has impacted the band’s tour schedule, but he’s optimistic about the future of the band. More albums are in the works.

“Because of the economy, engagements have been slow in coming,” says Gibson. “But we plan to persevere and keep recording and performing long as we can.”

Whether or not you’re down with the Lord, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying The Gospel Hummingbirds’ performance at Wingfield Park on July 13, 5:30-8 p.m..