Evelyn Sparks Hardy, Pianist and Founder of Gospel Harmonettes

The piano of Evelyn Sparks Hardy (December 15, 1922-April 2, 2015) kicks off  many of the Original Gospel Harmonettes songs. Meeting the keys with conviction, Ms. Hardy reminds us of the piano’s place in the percussion family, as she sets an early tempo for Harmonettes’ classics such as “Get Away Jordan” and “I’m Sealed.”

Ms. Hardy’s rise to gospel greatness started early. Not yet out of college, she was tapped to play for the National Baptist Convention Choir, and when it dissolved, she gathered some friends from her alma mater, Parker High. They became The Harmoneers and then the Lee Harmoneers, and, after appearing on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts program were signed by RCA Victor, becoming one of the first African-American female groups to be signed by a major label.

After their first recording found little commercial success, they were dropped by RCA and picked up by Specialty Records, where she and the group proceeded to record a number of hits. By this time, Ms. Hardy had succeeded in recruiting Dorothy Love Coates, the lead vocalist, who would help propel the group to fame. They appeared at Carnegie Hall with Mahalia Jackson, the Clara Ward Singers and Reverend James Cleveland.

To return to her career as a teacher, Ms. Hardy stopped touring  in 1953 , but continued to record with the group. She appeared on an album in 1988 with Inez Andrews, another alumna of the Original Gospel Harmonettes, and you can hear her and Ms. Coates on the soundtrack of the 1990s hit movie “Ghost.”

Links

New York Times Obituary

Blog Post by Bob Sims on al.com

God’s Got the Keys: Three Legendary Black Pianists from Gospel’s Golden Age, compiled and annotated by Opal Louis Nations