In the 1950′s, the Caravans lacked the Clara Ward Singers‘ flashy costumes and stage clowning, but they more than made up for it with the quality of their many classic hits such as “Mary, Don’t You Weep,” “I Won’t Be Back,” and Sweeping Through the City.” Even more so, the group was esteemed for the number of gospel legends it birthed, including Shirley Caesar Inez Andrews, Bessie Griffin, James Cleveland, and its founder, Albertina Walker.
Walker formed the Caravans in Chicago in 1952 with the original roster of Ora Lee Hopkins, Elyse Yancy, and Nellie Grace Daniels. The personnel changed regularly. Walker, a shrewd leader, recognized that her voice wasn’t always the best fit for every song and she routinely showcased the talents of others. At various times over the next five years, the group included Bessie Griffin, Dorothy Norwood, and their pianist, James Cleveland. However, the 1958 aggregation of Inez Andrews, Shirley Caesar, Walker, and Delores Washington was the most successful grouping. The combination of Caesar’s youthful energy and squalling soprano, Andrew’s shrieking high C’s, Washington’s sweet high notes, and Walker’s crusty rasp made for a delicious listening experience.