The Sensational Nightingales

(Photo Credit: Daniel Coston)

The Sensational Nightingales were founded as The Nightingales in 1942 in Philadelphia by Barney Parks, who had previously sung with the Dixie Hummingbirds. That original group included, Howard Carroll of the Hummingbirds, Paul Owens of the Swan Silvertones, Ben Joiner, and William Henry. They recorded several sides for Decca.

In 1946, Parks found singer Julius “June” Cheeks, who breathed fire into the group. Cheeks was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina and grew up listening to records by the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Fairfield Four and the Soul Stirrers. He left school when he was in the second grade and worked in the cotton fields and at service stations. In his off hours, he sang with the Baronets, a local quartet. Cheeks was singing with this group when the Reverend B.L. Parks, approached him to join a new line-up for the Nightingales.

The new group, led by Parks, had a line-up of Cheeks, Joseph “JoJo” Wallace of Wilmington, North Carolina, and Carl Coates, who was from Washington D.C. but was living in Birmingham. Coates was the husband of Dorothy Love Coates of the Original Gospel Harmonettes.

The Nightingales went to Goldsboro, North Carolina, where they rehearsed for a month before their first appearances, which were sensational so they added that to their name to become The Sensational Nightingales.

Julius Cheeks was an overpowering vocalist who sang like he preached, with fiery emotion punctuated by deep growls and sky high falsettos. In his performances he could carry the house to new levels with his earth shattering vocals.

They signed with Peacock Records and released their first single, “Will You Welcome Me There” in 1947. During the 1950s their hits included, “New Burying Ground,” “Morning Train,” “Somewhere to Lay My Head,” and “See How They Done My Lord.”

In 1960, June Cheeks left the Sensational Nightingales and formed his own group, The Knights. Later, Cheeks sang with the Mighty Clouds of Joy.

The Sensational Nightingales continued with Charles Johnson, who sang lead until 1984, when he was replaced by Calvert McNair, who became the group’s leader. They signed with Malaco in 1979; their line-up at that time consisted of JoJo Wallace, Willie Woodruff, Horace “Sug” Thompson and Calvert McNair. 

The Sensational Nightingales have often been called “The Gentlemen of Song” for the dignity they carry as they sing stirring quartet harmonies. The current Sensational Nightingales are comprised of Joseph “JoJo” Wallace, Larry Moore, Horace “Sug” Thompson and guitarist Darrell Luster.

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