The onetime holder of a Guinness world record honoring the lowest bass note ever reached, gospel pioneer J.D. Sumner was the driving force behind the Stamps Quartet, which earned secular renown as the longtime vocal support for Elvis Presley. Born November 19, 1924, Sumner became the Blackwood Brothers' bass vocalist in 1954, remaining with the group for a dozen years. At his suggestion, in 1955 the Blackwoods became the first touring act to travel from show to show in their own customized bus, a practice since followed by virtually every live performer. Sumner also befriended the young Presley, then still a high-school student who attended the Blackwood Brothers' Memphis-area performances each Saturday night. In 1962, Sumner and bandmate James Blackwood jointly purchased a Dallas-based music publishing company which included among its holdings the rights to the name of the Stamps Quartet, a vocal group originally formed in 1924; within two years Sumner left the Blackwoods to assume leadership of the Stamps, remaining at the helm for over three decades. the Stamps worked regularly with Presley from 1970 onward until his death in 1977, backing him live as well as appearing on hit records including "Burning Love." In the wake of Presley's death, the group regularly contributed to Graceland's annual Elvis memorial celebrations in addition to maintaining their own rigorous recording and touring schedules; during a concert stay in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Sumner died in his sleep on November 16, 1998, just three days short of his 74th birthday. ~ Jason Ankeny
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