The Rev. William “Redd” Watson (left) of the Jubilee Hummingbirds is presented with “The Rise of 300 Moral Leaders” Award by Stanley Campbell, the award’s founder. (Photos: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

The Jubilee Hummingbirds have embodied a celebrated gospel style known as the “jubilee quartet style” for 82 years, according to the group’s leader, the Rev. William “Redd” Watson.

Last Sunday (Jan. 30) afternoon, Watson was honored with a “Love and Benefit Concert” as his Olive Branch church family enjoyed the rich and uplifting harmonies of the historic recording ensemble.

“I just wanted to do something to help Bro. Watson, since he is our church member,” said Pastor Kenneth Artison, House of God Church.

“Bro. Watson has been sick, and so many families have suffered through this pandemic with very little added support. My heart went out to him, and we wanted to show the family that we really love them.”

Watson, who was hospitalized with COVID-19, has suffered extended respiratory issues since contracting the virus in the early part of 2021.

Jan. 30, the last Sunday of the month, brought Watson lots of things to rejoice about. 

“In the hospital, I was on 20 liters of oxygen,” he said. “I was sent home with three liters. They said I was going to die, but God said something different. I am just grateful to be here.”

Not only did Watson receive a love offering from attendees of the event, but he was also presented with “The Rise of 300 Moral Leaders” Award by Stanley Campbell, the award’s founder.

“Redd Watson was named in our first year of 2021,” said Campbell. “He announced the names of 100 honorees on April 4, 2021, and we presented the actual awards later on in the year during the Annual Stone Awards. Mr. Watson couldn’t be there because he was sick. But, we wanted to make sure he received his award during this event given in his honor.”

The Jubilee Hummingbirds helped to define a style of showmanship and enthusiastic shouting that became synonymous with the jubilee quartet genre. Secular singers, such as James Brown and Jackie Wilson, adapted the style of performing during their popular stage acts of the 1960s. 

Brown was known for falling on his knees, someone throwing a cape over his shoulders, walking out, but then, throwing the cape off and returning to the performance. It was a popular stunt taken straight from the quartet acts of the 1940s and 1950s.

Watson delighted church family and community supporters by performing with his quartet after a long absence.

“Bro. Watson was able to sing and play with his group for a couple of numbers,” said Artison. “He had to sit down during the performances, but he sang and played his guitar, and it was just wonderful.”

The “Love and Benefit Concert” at House of God Church was a crowd-pleaser. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Watson said the group is proud of its history, and that history must be passed on.

“We were started in the ’40s by Clarence Johnson,” said Watson. “We always honor him as our founder. In 1964, we recorded at Stax. In the fall of 1968, we started performing each week on ‘Songs of Praise,’ a local gospel program on WREG Channel 3.”

Watson said at their busiest, the Jubilee Hummingbirds were singing through the week, twice on Saturday, and three times on Sunday.

“Those were wonderful days,” he said. “Not only did we go all over the Mid-South, we were singing in Chicago, just all over. Those were wonderful days. Now, many of the old guys have passed away. We want to tell these younger members about our history and what those members did back then to make Jubilee Hummingbirds what they are. Our history must be kept alive.”

Watson lives in Cordova. Other members of the group live in communities around the city of Memphis.