The Paramount Singers organized in front of the old Anderson High School on Comal Street in Austin in late 1936. The original members included the Rev. Ermant M. Franklin, Sr., the Rev. A. C. Franklin, Ben H. Williams, Kermit Terrell, James Haywood Medlock, and Geno Terrell. The members wanted to get involved with something beneficial and positive and decided to organize a spiritual group. The group took their name from the large and attractive Paramount Theatre on Congress Avenue. Although the policy of racial segregation prevented the members of the group from attending the theater, they adopted its name because they thought "Paramount" would distinguish them from other groups. The Paramount Singers completed school by day and sang at night. They became very popular and began a successful radio program on KTBC in Austin. Because most of the members had families, they toured mainly in the 300–mile radius of Austin. The group stayed busy with weeknight engagements and performed to audiences often numbering more than 1,200 people.
They made their first recordings for the Library of Congress in 1941. The Paramount Singers continued to perform on radio, to tour, and to make recordings until World War II, when the Terrell brothers were drafted, and the original group disbanded. In 1946 the new Paramount Singers organized in California in the vicinity of San Francisco with the Terrell brothers, Williams, and Sam Reece and Victor L. Medearis, two other Austin natives. During the following years the group’s lineup experienced changes, but the main core consisted of two of the original members, Geno Terrell and Ben Williams, Archie Reynolds, Vance “Tiny” Powell, E. Morris Kelley, and Joseph Dean. Their studio work included recordings for the Coral and Duke labels in the late 1940s and 1950s, and they toured the West Coast.
The Paramount Singers continued to perform in the 1960s and 1970s, but the group suffered a blow with the death of their cofounder Ben Williams in 1979. With the loss of their bass singer and guitar accompaniment, the Paramounts eventually carried on by performing all their songs a cappella. Longtime member Archie Reynolds assumed leadership of the group, and in 1992 the lineup included Reynolds, Joseph Dean, Rev. Odis Brown, Clyde Price, J. B. Williams, and William Johnson, the youngest member of the group at age thirty-nine. They returned to the studio in 1992 to work on their first recording project since 1955. The result was the highly-praised Work & Pray On.
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All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com), accessed July 1, 2008. Arhoolie: The Paramount Singers—Work and Pray On (http://www.arhoolie.com/gospel/paramount-singers-work-and-pray-on.html), accessed July 31, 2011.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Clayton T. Shorkey,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 24, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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