SG History 101
“Little” David Young
This month, I'd like to spotlight the career of a true giant of gospel music. He may have been diminutive in stature, but he certainly made a large contribution to gospel music as a performer, writer, arranger, and teacher. Here is the story of the artist known as "Little" David Young.
Born Lester David Young on August 5, 1938 in Unaka, NC to Lester and Beulah Young, one could say the boy was born into a gospel music career. His grandfather on his father's side was a Baptist preacher, and his other grandfather was a song leader and singing school teacher.
Like most youngsters with such a background in North Carolina, young "L.D." was taken along with his brother and sister by his parents to numerous revivals, church, and gospel singings. When he was four, the family settled in Lenoir City, TN, where the young David was encouraged to sing at every opportunity by his parents, who recognized their boy's unusual talents. At eight, he began formal piano lessons.
Not surprisingly, young David showed a definite aptitude for church music and gospel singing. Like other kids his age in those days, he had "heroes" in the various top quartets of the day. Among David's heroes were Charles Key, longtime pianist of the Harmoneers, Hovie Lister (just beginning to become well-known then), Jackie Marshall, Wally Varner, Hilton Griswold, Eddie Wallace, Lee Roy Abernathy, and Kenny Gates. In later years, David would work with those men and befriend them.
When David was still in high school, he formed a quartet in Lenoir City that was quite active at churches, chapel services, and civic clubs called the Kingsmen. If the name is familiar, it's because this group was a precursor to the Kingsmen of today based in Asheville, NC. David's Kingsmen appeared on Ted Mack's Amateur Hour TV show, and also did TV and personal appearances with Archie Campbell from the "Grandpappy Show" out of Knoxville.
Kingsmen circa 1957
L to R: Harold Bailey, Louis McKinney, Reese McKinney, Charles Collier, and David Young
Then, when David went to college at Mars Hill College near Asheville (where he graduated from in 1958), he played piano for the Kingsmen Quartet there. This group had begun as the McKinney Brothers, and among the people who had played piano for them prior to David were Eldridge Fox (who would acquire the group in subsequent years) and Charles Matthews, who wrote such songs as "The Devil And His Old Suitcase" and "Love Never Fails", two of their more popular songs in that period. Also popular for the group was "This Is A Mean World" which the group recorded in 1963 on a famous RCA NQC album. David gained valuable experience and met a number of other gospel singers while with the Kingsmen. He had planned to continue his education at Belmont College in Nashville, but those plans were pre-empted by a phone call from Don Butler in the summer of 1958. Butler was with a dynamic new trio called the Sons of Song, who had attracted a great deal of attention at that time. Butler, Don Robinson, and Calvin Newton comprised the Sons of Song. But the future of the group was threatened at that time after a traffic accident put Butler on crutches and left Robinson unable to travel. So Butler had called David to get him to join the group, which he did. David stayed with the Sons of Song until 1959, his reputation growing steadily in the gospel music field.
During his stint with the Sons of Song, an important part of David's life entered the picture. While appearing with the Statesmen at the Atlanta City Auditorium, David noticed a young lady that Hovie Lister was playing a song for, and asked Hovie to introduce her to him. Characteristically, Hovie told David, "That's all you think about! You need to go to church with me tomorrow!" At that time, Hovie pastored Mt. Zion Church in Marietta, and the next day when Hovie and his wife Ethel took David to the church and sent him to a Sunday School class there, he was introduced to the young lady, who was named Elizabeth Colleen. From there, they were married five years later, and remain a loving and devoted couple to this day. Colleen was also a singer, so she would prove to be a most fortuitous choice as a life partner for David.
In 1959, David was offered a job playing piano for (and chauffering) gospel legend Wally Fowler. He stayed with Fowler for two months, long enough to acquire the nickname "Little David", which David goes by to this day. (At 5'4", and with naturally boyish looks, the nickname appears to fit.)
Then, David joined Bill Crowe (the nephew of Blue Ridge Quartet manager Elmo Fagg) in Winston-Salem to put together a brand new quartet with Danny Allen and Jim Morris, to be called the Victors. Once again, though, a Don Butler phone call would change David's plans.
David joined a new quartet out of Atlanta called The Ambassadors. Besides David and Butler, the group had Jim Hill, Bob Robinson, and Bill Huie, a most talented ensemble. The group traveled with the Statesmen for many dates, especially in the Southwest, where they would appear with "the team" (the Statesmen and the Blackwood Brothers). They would also travel to Ohio and the Northeast. The group's demise began when Hovie Lister wanted to swap tenors with the Ambassadors, so Jim Hill ended up working for Lister while Cat Freeman joined the Ambassadors.
Eventually, Butler and Robinson returned to the Sons of Song, and David and Cat Freeman joined a group that did backup work for Bill Lowery in Atlanta. In the beginning, this group (called the Victors) had David, Cat, Rex Nelon, and Hovie Lister's brother Jack. Eventually, studio work became scarce, so the group travelled some with the Blue Ridge Quartet, acquiring Bill Crowe's brother Ed, and bass singer Fred Rose (formerly of the Harvesters). This group recorded two 45 RPM singles for the SING
label in 1959.
But David's odyssey didn't stop there. In 1960, Earl Terry left a group called the Marksmen, based in Dayton, OH. Fagg recommended David as a replacement on tenor vocals (David by this time had become a fine tenor as well as an accomplished pianist), and so David joined Danny Koker (the group's manager), Jim Hamill, and bass singer Don Taylor in the Marksmen. Besides gospel music, the group also backed Red Foley on occasion and were regulars on the Ozark Jubilee. Soon, Taylor was drafted, and Hamill left as well to join the Blue Ridge Quartet, so the Marksmen got David's old friend Bill Crowe to replace Hamill, and moved to Cleveland, OH to work with Dr. Cecil Simmons. The Marksmen went to full-time gospel, and changed their name to the Foggy River Boys.
Foggy River Boys from 1960.
L-R: Danny Koker, Bill Crowe, David Young
With the Foggy River Boys, David really began to come into his own as a musician, singer, and stage performer. They pioneered the first All-Night Sings in the Cleveland area. They also sang for Lloyd Orrell in the Detroit area. Their arrangements featured dual piano accompaniment by David and Danny Koker, and they were quite inventive. They remained a top group of the time despite numerous personnel
changes. At various times, members of the group included Ron Van Horn, Mack Evans, Charles Yates, and even Bob Thacker! At one concert in 1960, the group worked with the Couriers Quartet, an up-and-coming group out of Harrisburg, PA, and David was impressed by their demeanor and "classy" sound. He expressed interest in possibly becoming a member of the group, and Couriers' lead singer Neil Enloe likewise had a positive impression of David Young. Would David become a Courier?
David with the Prophets in 1961.
Clockwise from lower left: Charles Yates, Jim Boatman, Lew Garrison, Ed
Hill, and David Young (middle)
Perhaps later, but for now, there were other fish to fry. David himself was drafted for the Army in 1961, and Koker was hired by the Weatherford Quartet in Akron, to work with Rex Humbard, so David left the Foggy River Boys to join the Prophets Quartet in Knoxville. The Prophets were an exciting group to listen to and to be with, and they were rapidly becoming one of gospel's very top groups. The Prophets hadn't yet joined the Gospel Singing Caravan when David joined them, but they were on the Mull's Singing Convention TV show. Typical of David's love for the church and pastors, he describes one of his highlights of his short stint with the Prophets as playing THEN JESUS CAME for the song's writer, Toronto pastor Oswald Smith.
Young with Lee Roy Abernathy from a 1960 Charlotte TV appearance
Then, David entered the Army. He was stationed at Fort Knox, and served as a music instructor in a Band Training Unit of the 2nd United States Army. While there, he was in a group called the Musical Knights, which had former Les Brown pianist Don Goldberg, who helped David learn progressive chords, voicing, and jazz. The group won the USA-ARMC entertainment contest in 1962 with a tasty rendition of Lee Roy Abernathy's song, "Sin Ain't Nothin' But The Blues". When the group performed in Louisville, KY later that year, their arrangement of "The Old Rugged Cross" caught the ear of a young Lari Goss, and inspired him in his own budding musical career.
But even though David was in the Army, he wasn't away from gospel singing. The Melody Boys Quartet was starting up again after Joe Roper had disbanded them a while back, and David played with them off and on throughout his Army time.
Couriers Quartet circa 1964.
L-R: Duane Nicholson, Neil Enloe, Don Baldwin, Dave Kyllonen, and David
Young at the piano.
But the most satisfying musical period to date in David's life was nigh. The Couriers (who David had expressed interest in joining) had a job waiting for him when he was discharged. So, in late 1963, David's dream job finally came. He joined the Couriers, who, at that time, had recently sung at Carnegie Hall and released a very unusual album for Warner Brothers ("Nothing…But The Gospel Truth"), and almost immediately, accompanied his new group across Canada, around the West Coast, and back across the entire USA, a six-week tour! Such traveling was typical of the Couriers in those days, but David loved being a Courier and his experience along with his Southern breeding helped get the Couriers over in the Southeast, where, at the time, they were members of the cast of the then-new "Gospel Singing Jubilee" TV show. David's onstage personality and bent for comedy as well as his spectacular piano playing and his occasional tenor solos helped bring the Couriers to their peak of popularity as a quartet. And David became one of the most beloved personalities in all of gospel music, while a Courier. His songwriting and arranging were also important parts of the Couriers' success in that period.
David was quite an accomplished songwriter, and that aspect of his talent peaked during his time with the Couriers. Among his most popular songs he wrote for the Couriers include "I'll Be Satisfied", "Greatest Friend", "Jesus Loves You", "Turn Your Life Over To Him", and "When It All Starts Happening", which he co-wrote with the Couriers' bass singer, Dave Kyllonen. His most popular composition with the Couriers, "Homecoming", was a staple of the group's repertoire for many years.
David appeared to be living a dream, as he was with a group that was not merely musically skilled, but had a strong bent for ministry in their personal appearances as well. In addition, David enjoyed being with his fellow Couriers, and they enjoyed having him around. Surely David was set for life in what he was doing.
Alas, he wasn't. Having just gotten married and starting a family, the long, frequent tours were hard for David. He loved the Couriers, but he began to feel the call of God to settle down, and raise a family, and find other ways to serve the Lord that didn't involve so much traveling. So in 1965, he told the Couriers that he would resign and return south, never to travel full-time with another group.
David may have retired from the road, but certainly not from music. He had too much of that left in him! So he became, for a time perhaps, gospel music' ultimate fill-in person, subbing on tenor for Coy Cook with the Florida Boys, on piano for Sue Whitfield for the Dixie Echoes, even the Statesmen (subbing for Hovie Lister), and the Happy Goodmans (singing for Vestal)! It was said that David had a company called Gospel Pinch-Hitters, Inc.
Also at that time, David joined Lee Roy Abernathy in developing new methods for printing shaped notes on sheet music. The two legendary pianists worked in tandem on many sheet music projects, and TV shows along with Abernathy's longtime associate, Shorty Bradford. In addition, David began directing music in churches, as well as singing with his wife Colleen. The two enlisted former Blackwood Brothers tenor Dan Huskey for a trio known as the Sharon Trio, named for the church they all attended at that time. David also started a trio with two other ministers of music (and former traveling singers), Bob, Larry, and David (Bobby Shaw, Larry Taylor, and David).
David literally got into the record-making business in 1968, operating a record pressing plant in Smyrna, GA. The plant was in operation until 1979. Also during this period, David began taping regular appearances on the TV show "Warren Roberts Presents". On the show, David joined his first piano hero, Charles Key, in an instrumental group called "Our Bunch".
David with Hovie Lister at the Grand Ol' Gospel Reunion, circa 2003
Even though David was no longer traveling on the circuit, he still was sharing his gift of music with any and every willing audience. In 1980, David moved to Dahlonega, GA and established a recording studio there, which still operates today. David records old and new talent there regularly. He has since been on mission trips with a former pastor of his, J.T. McHan to Alaska, Nova Scotia, and Moldova with his church, playing and singing gospel music to all who would hear it.
David started up the Victors again in 1980. The group still performs today, consisting of David on piano and baritone, his son Mike on tenor, and his son-in-law Eddie Rider as lead.
David's children and their spouses, singing as the Songs of
Today, David lives comfortably near Dahlonega, still singing occasionally with Colleen, his loving and devoted wife of 42 years. Their four daughters (Terri, Maribeth, Patti, and Ami) sing together as the Seasons. All five of David's children and their spouses sing together as the Songs of Sharon, all of them fine singers and writers, like their father. The Victors are still singing on occasion in the North, but primarily in the Southeast. In his spare time, David enjoys fishing, his various music activities, and his 13 grandchildren, some of whom are already becoming part of the Young family ministry of music.
David was inducted into the Gospel Piano Roll of Honor in 2004 at the Grand Ol' Gospel Reunion, and recently appeared on the Perrys' Remembering the Happy Goodmans, having played on the original Goodman recording sessions, and one of the project's songs, "When It All Starts Happening" is a song he co-wrote when with the Couriers with their then-bass singer, Dave Kyllonen.
This is David fairly recently, playing the piano while his wife Colleen
is singing. This really shows where David's heart is.
Truly, "Little" David Young has lived a full and fulfilling life. He has spent time in the limelight, and out of it…regardless of where he has been, or what station he has held in his life, he is an embodiment of what a man can be and do when he devotes his life to using his gifts in the service of his Lord. For many years, David has entertained and blessed many with his gift of music, and even today, in his twilight years, he still is a blessing and influence on many.