In the 1950s, gospel music groups such as The Pilgrim Travelers, The Five Blind Boys and The Soul Stirrers, with lead singer Sam Cooke, were some of the most famous gospel musicians of this time.
In February of 1955, these groups came to Sherman for a performance with Sherman’s own gospel band, The Five Gospel Singers.
This group originated in 1949 when five men banded together to sing gospel music and reach out to the community. These men were John Dehorney, Ernest Gentry, Eugene McDade, Russell McDade and Elgie Brown.
Even in the ’50s it was difficult to break into the music world, but from a relationship they had with radio station KTAN co-owner Bill Jaco, the group was able to seal a record contract and their talents were heard across the airwaves and in churches throughout the area.
“I remember that Mr. McDade was still singing at Iron Ore (Church), and he had this really beautiful deep voice,” Thurman Dehorney Sr., pastor of Iron Ore Baptist Church in Denison, said. “He’d just have this calm look on his face, smiling and grinning.”
The Five Gospel Singers traveled through North Texas and to Oklahoma and Kansas to perform in front of black and white congregations alike, even taking a leaf out of Johnny Cash’s book and performing for prisons.
“Back then church was more spiritual,” Dehorney said. “Those gospel songs would put people into a spiritual mood. You’d get connected with a feeling of God’s presence. Somebody said somewhere that music was medication to the soul, and it works like that.”
During some of these concerts, The Five Gospel Singers would perform during intermissions for groups such as The Pilgrim Travelers and The Soul Stirrers. It was through these brief periods of performing together that The Five Gospel Singers invited the three other bands to perform at the Sherman Municipal Building.
Posters were put up. Billboards decorated the highways advertising one of the largest concerts Sherman had seen for its time.
“It was the talk of the town,” Denison resident Rose Brown Pleasant said. “People came from Dallas and all over. … The auditorium was full.”
Pleasant’s father, Elgie Brown, was one of the main singers of the group as a baritone.
The Five Gospel Singers performed almost every Sunday, maintaining a busy schedule to meet the group’s high demand in the area.
Pleasant said the band’s mission was never about fame, however. Any profit the group made went to help the poor, to help buy groceries or pay for someone’s medication. She insisted that even the traveling expenses came from the members’ own pockets.
“It was never about personal gain,” Pleasant said.
Pleasant and Dehorney described a situation with one of the prisons the band performed at. The Gospel Singer’s had a strong relationship with Grayson County Sheriff George “Woody” Blanton. After each recording session on Sunday mornings, the singers would visit the jail to talk and have prayer with the inmates. The sheriff would even release the inmates to the singers to care for them and help them find employment while providing them with a place to stay. Some of the inmates even came on the road with the group, traveling and helping the band during their shows.
After the death of John Dehorney in 1960, Thurman Dehorney’s father, George, was added to the group, bringing with him Sylvester Woodson. Picking up where the original group left off, the group then became The Six Gospel Singers.
For Thurman Dehorney, this was a group that left a certain legacy. Inspired by The Six Gospel Singers, he and his cousins formed their own musical group, The Spiritual Cousins.
“There were five of us that formed a singing group underneath (The Six Gospel Singers),” Dehorney said. “We learned what it was about. It was unique. We practiced a capella two or three times a week. … Finally you have a debut with the public and you go to a church, and you just sing. And people are moved tremendously.”
Like the Gospel Singers that inspired them, any profit they acquired for their music went back to the church to help the poor.
“We never thought on the basis of money,” Dehorney said. “We were there on the basis of soul saving. The money part never really hit. We didn’t go into it for the money.”
Dehorney said it was acts like this that kept his family and their prominent music group from facing the hardships of prejudice and segregation.
“For me it was the golden years, because we had great talents and great things happen in the midst of unity, and it made us more dependent on each other and more unified with that pressure of segregation,” Dehorney said. “… We were abounding.”
After traveling and performing until 1966, the group was able to retire from music and went on to build their own businesses or become pastors in churches, but remained close friends.
“They had their time,” Dehorney said. “And what a time they had.”