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J.D. Sumner; Gospel Singer Backed Elvis

TIMES STAFF WRITER

J.D. Sumner, Grammy Award-winning gospel singer known for his work with the Stamps Quartet, a backup group for Elvis Presley, has died. He was 73.

Sumner, who was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1983, died Monday of a heart attack in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he had gone to perform with the Stamps.

J.D. Sumner and the Stamps, as they were known, performed with Presley from 1970 to 1977, and Sumner sang at Presley’s funeral in 1977. He also sang on such Presley hits as “Burning Love,” “American Trilogy” and “Way Down.”

Sumner and his group were always in demand for annual observances of Presley’s birthday in Memphis and state fairs across the country. They also appeared on stage in March at New York’s Radio City Music Hall for “Elvis--The Concert,” with Presley projected on the screen behind them.

Born John Daniel Sumner in Lakeland, Fla., Sumner began singing with his local church choir at age 8. As he matured, Sumner developed a phenomenal bass voice that enabled him to reach a double low C on the music scale and landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s lowest bass singer.

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Sumner started singing professionally with the Sunny South Quartet, then performed with the Sunshine Boys, a “cowboy quartet” that made a dozen Western movies with such stars as Eddie Dean. Sumner also sang with the Blackwood Brothers and formed his own quartet for the Dixie Lilly Co.

But in 1963, he became the leader of the long-standing Stamps Quartet, which propelled him to lasting recognition. Sumner wrote more than 500 gospel songs for the group, which this year was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

The singer helped found the Gospel Music Assn. and the National Quartet Convention.

Frank Breeden, president of the Gospel Music Assn., called Sumner “an industry pioneer and gospel music legend” and said that by continuing to perform until his death the singer “truly devoted his life to furthering gospel music.”


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