The Caravans

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About this artist

During the period stretching from the late ’50s to the mid-’60s, the Caravans went unrivaled as the nation’s most popular touring gospel group; acclaimed as one of the greatest female acts ever to arrive on the spiritual music front, their fluctuating roster was unparalleled as a launching pad for future superstars — Shirley Caesar, Inez Andrews, Bessie Griffin and James Cleveland were just a few of the ensemble’s alumni who later went on to solo fame. The Caravans were formed in Chicago in 1952 by contralto Albertina Walker and other onetime members of the Robert Anderson Singers, among them Ora Lee Hopkins, Elyse Yancey and Nellie Grace Daniels; virtually from the outset, their lineup shifted regularly, but in addition to longtime mainstay Walker, the recordings the group made for the States label between 1952 and 1956 include Griffin, Dorothy Norwood and Cassietta George, who enlisted in 1954. Also present was Cleveland, who not only accompanied the group on piano but also narrated hymns, his relaxed monologues a stark contrast to the fervent group vocals behind him. By 1956, the Caravans were among the most popular acts in all of gospel music, famed for their uncanny — almost telepathic — teamwork. They moved to Savoy in 1958, where their lineup now included both Andrews and Caesar as well as Dolores Washington; the combination of the young soprano phenom Caesar and the shrieking contralto Andrews was a powerhouse one-two punch, and as the decade drew to a close, the Caravans were the queens of the gospel circuit. Although Andrews had exited by 1962, the group continued to ride high, signing to Vee-Jay to record the LP Seek Ye the Lord. Their Vee-Jay tenure proved their most stable, with a consistent roster of Walker, Caesar, George, Washington, Josephine Howard and pianist James Herndon appearing on all of their output for the label. However, when Caesar exited in 1966 to go solo, the Caravans' run at the top ended, and within months only Walker remained. She set about forming a new edition which included future disco diva Loleatta Holloway, but the venture proved short-lived; Caravans reunion concerts, however, were common in the years to follow. ~ Jason Ankeny