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American Routes Shortcuts: The Highway Q.C.'s

The Highway Q.C.'s
The Highway Q.C.'s

For Black residents from the South, during the Great Migration North in the 1940's and 50's, gospel music defined the sacred side of life.  In Chicago, churches served as places of community, musical joy, and healing.  A tradition of quartet singing grew with groups like the Clefs of Cavalry, Holy Wonders, and the Highway Q.C.’s.  These groups toured on gospel circuits nationwide, had record deals and radio shows.  Group members often changed; Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls, and Johnnie Taylor had all been in the Highway Q.C.’s before each turned to secular music.  Spencer Taylor Jr. was a member of the Holy Wonders when the Q.C.’s came calling in the 1950s.  I sat down with Mr. Taylor and his son, Spencer Taylor III, of the Highway Q.C.’s, to talk about his long life leading the ensemble.

Spencer Taylor Jr.: The Q.C.’s was looking for me. They wanted somebody that they felt that could push, and they felt that I would be the one.


STJ: And they was real. They came to the post office and found me. I was a clerk, so you know, they saying they can't find me, and they found me, but they knew me because the Holy Wonders was rated as the best local group in Chicago. That was our group.


STJ: And after I went with the Q.C.’s, the record, "Somewhere to Lay My Head," was the first record that–

Spencer Taylor III: Well, I thought y'all had a two-side hit, like, you know, back then-

STJ: Well, we had another; we did have one that was playing, but actually we got more play on "Somewhere to Lay My Head," and we did–

ST3: Now who was singing "Somewhere to Lay My Head" then?

STJ: Who was singing?

ST3: Yeah, the lead.

STJ: Johnnie, mainly. Johnnie sung it, but Johnnie left, and the public did not know any different who was singing it when we got to the new-

ST3: Yeah, the voices, they were so close.

STJ: Well, the voices was close, and the main thing, I could sing the song. That's what it was, you know?


Nick Spitzer: Now somewhere in this mix you were with Lou Rawls.

STJ: Lou Rawls, yeah. Lou was there very short. He went with another group, older group. All of them were older than him. He sang with them a little while. Then Lou went to the Pilgrim Travelers, and stayed there. Then, after that, he went to the other side, secular.

NS: Yeah, the other side. Well let’s talk about the going to the other side. I mean, Lou Rawls, Sam Cooke, Johnnie Taylor, many, many people went to the other side.

STJ: There were quite a few singers went to the other side.

ST3: Excuse me, it seems like almost all the Highway Q.C.’s lead singers went to the other side, but you, so what was the point? Why didn’t you go?

STJ: The same God that I had then I got, and the God has brought me where I am today.

ST3: Right.

STJ: I couldn't go son, I, uh-

ST3: Well look, you still here 93 years, so you had to be doing something right out there.

STJ: Well you had to be doing–I believe in God, that's what that was.


STJ: I had the opportunity a number of times, they offered- I've been offered that.

ST3: A lot of good stuff.

STJ: Well, I don't know if you'd call it “good.” I think the good stuff is being in Christ.

ST3: Amen, all right. I got you there.


To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.