Dunham, Charles Alfred "Son"
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Dunham, Son AKA Charles Alf, Dunham
Born: 1890 Selma, AL
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Biography by arwulf arwulf
Formed in Birmingham, Alabama, the Dunham Jazz & Jubilee Singers were trained and led by Charles Alfred "Son" Dunham, a skilled vocalist, director, and arranger who was born in Selma in 1890 and moved to Westfield near Birmingham in 1920. Working with bass vocalist Leon Patrick, Dunham exerted a major influence on the development of quartet singing throughout the region during the 1920s. He is remembered as a fine lead singer with a broad range who was capable of demonstrating all of the parts in order to coordinate and instruct other vocalists. Dunham and Patrick were responsible for schooling and encouraging Jimmie Hollingsworth and Charles Beal, cardinal members of the Birmingham-based Famous Blue Jay Singers. Dunham led his first recording session in Birmingham during July 1927, hooking up with the same Gennett field recording unit that captured jazz recordings by the Triangle Harmony Boys and Frank Bunch & His Fuzzy Wuzzies. In addition to Dunham and Patrick, the first Dunham group on record featured tenor singer James Allen and baritone L.V. Cox. This quartet also performed in Paramount movie theaters. By September 1928 a Dunham-and-Patrick-led quintet was recording at Gennett's home base in Richmond, Indiana, now with Rufus Beavers singing tenor along with baritones Arthur Lee Turner and Ben Ransaw.
The evidence suggests something similar to what had been introduced on records as early as 1923 by Len Williams and the Norfolk Jazz & Jubilee Quartet. Like that worthy ensemble and several other contemporaneous groups, the Dunham unit presented a mixed repertoire of sacred gospel and bluesy secular songs, sometimes tapping into the minstrel repertoire. After relocating to Cleveland and singing in churches and at gatherings sponsored by the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Dunham Jazz & Jubilee Singers went to New York, where they began recording for Columbia in 1930. Their greatest claim to fame was their participation in a Bessie Smith recording session; backing her during Spencer Williams' "Moan Mourners" and Andy Razaf's "On Revival Day," they were billed on the record as the Bessemer Singers. Shortly afterwards, Leon Patrick's unexpected death caused the ensemble to disband, whereupon Dunham retreated to Cleveland, then south to Mobile and Birmingham where he reconstituted his group, combining Cox and Allen with bass vocalist Sam Middlebrooks. Although they sang at Mardi Gras in Mobile, entertained the mayor of Birmingham, and recorded ten sides in New York in 1931, what is now regarded as Dunham's egocentric alcoholism ultimately caused the group to dissipate and disintegrate. Although he trained and led other ensembles, Dunham would never make records again, and he passed away in Bessemer, Alabama in 1955.
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