PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Ira Tucker Sr., longtime lead singer
of the gospel group the Dixie Hummingbirds, which influenced many other performers and backed up Paul Simon on "Loves Me Like a Rock," has died. He was 83.
Tucker had severe heart problems and died Tuesday in Philadelphia, where the group was based for many years, according to his son, Ira Tucker Jr.
Among those influenced by the band were the Temptations, James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Al Green, according the National Endowment for the Arts, which honored the Hummingbirds in 2000.
They became widely known to Top 40 radio listeners in 1973, when Simon's "Loves Me Like a Rock" reached No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard chart. Besides singing backup with Simon, the Dixie Hummingbirds also produced their own version, which won a Grammy for best soul gospel performance.
In 2007, the group's "Still Keeping It Real" was nominated for the Grammy for best traditional gospel album.
The Dixie Hummingbirds traces its history to 1928, when founder James B. Davis formed it as a student quartet in Greenville, South Carolina. Tucker, born in 1925 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, was still in his teens when he auditioned for Davis in the late 1930s.
He was the band's lead singer for decades thereafter, bringing a mixture of gospel and blues to the group's style, and adding an energy and versatility to their performances, according to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, which inducted the group in 2000.
"Tucker, in particular, wowed audiences with his flamboyant theatrics, rejecting the long tradition of 'flat-footed' singers rooted in place on stage in favor of running up the aisles and rocking prayerfully on his knees," the hall of fame says on its Web site. "By 1944, he was even regularly jumping off stages."
After World War II, as the sound of gospel changed, the Hummingbirds added guitar, bass and drums.
"He was an extraordinary performer," Tucker Jr. said. "I recognized that from the time I was little. Having his name didn't help me, because I couldn't sing."
Davis died last year.
Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press