When I first saw and heard The Masters of Harmony I was amazed. A pure, balanced harmony of four stunning voices. A vaulted ceiling in the host church amplified true a Capella gospel quartet musicianship. The Masters of Harmony were one of 6 to 8 gospel groups on the bill for the evening. They gave only a three song performance, 20 minutes at the most. The Masters of Harmony stole the show led by Kelly Thomas (far left performer), a true showman, at age 101.
Several weeks later I visited Mr. Kelly Thomas at his home
in Detroit since 1946. In 1922 his family migrated from Earlstown, Alabama to get a job in Detroit. Years later he and his wife raised three children while he managed a Capella gospel quartet performances usually on Sunday. He worked at Chrysler’s Eldon Axle Plant for 30 years. He continues to benefit from his strong UAW pension.
In the 1930’s there was a strong demand for live Sunday religious programing and he worked nearly every week at WJLB-AM. “Detroit used to be the best black gospel city” noted Brother Kelly. Over the years the quartets have made several recordings. “No records still exist, unless buried in the basement”.
Kelly has maintained a print archive of his musical history leading a Capella gospel quartets, beginning with the Marine Harmony Four in 1926. “we used to sing on the corner till midnight, or until the cops told us boys to go home”.
The archive has additional quartet photos over the last century along with event posters – “The Gospel Harmonizers” listing the act along with other gospel groups on the bill. Over the years of the quartets, five members became ministers.
I again photographed the quartet in Novi, Michigan, as guests in an 1879 church with small dedicated gospel Baptist audience.
The current additional quartet members are Brother Walker, Brother Neil and bass singer Brother David, who has the most amazing voice I have ever heard.
Mark your calendar.
The next performance of Detroit’s Oldest Performing Musician, Mr. KellyThomas and The Masters of Harmony will be February 11, 2015 at theDetroit Public Library Annual Hackley Collection Free Musical Review. 7-9 pm. The event has a number of African-American musicians performing.