Morris Wade & The Four Pharaohs
A Columbus Treasure
Based on the article “The Four Pharaohs As Told By Leo Blakely” written by Dave Ardit, updated and expanded with the help of Morris Wade. Edited and compiled by Doug Tracy.
Many thanks to Dave Ardit for permission to use his original article and special thanks to Morris Wade for his gracious assistance and patience in piecing together this story.
The story of Morris Wade and the 4 Pharaohs begins during a unique time in Columbus music history when the east side of the city, known at the time as ‘Bronzeville’, was exploding with musical talent and energy. Bronzeville in many ways was Columbus’s Harlem, an area just east of the downtown core that was the center of the city’s African-American culture, alive with clubs, restaurants, shops, theaters and, most of all, music.
The club scene in Bronzeville during the mid-1950’s to the early 1960’s was teeming with the best jazz, vocal harmony and R&B artists on the planet. Small clubs, ballrooms and concert halls like the Copa, the Cadillac Club, Club Jamaica, Joe’s Hole, Marty Mellman’s Club 502, the Lincoln Ballroom, the Regal, the Macon and the Litchford Cocktail Lounge routinely showcased the best of the best national names in the music industry, as Columbus’s strategic location between New York and Chicago provided the perfect mid-point stop for artists touring the Midwest.
On any given night in the clubs along Mt. Vernon Avenue and Long Street, you might see legendary artists such as Jimmy Smith, Cannonball Adderly, Illinois Jacquet, Earl Bostic, Ray Charles, Huey Smith and The Clowns, Muddy Waters, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Big Joe Turner, Dinah Washington, Chuck Willis, Earl Bostic, Lester Young, Miles Davis, Jimmy Witherspoon, Ahmad Jamal, Dakota Staton, B.B. King, Count Basie or Etta James, just to name a few. The mix of such national as well as local artists in such an intimate setting was a bounty for club patrons and an opportunity for up-and-coming local artists to learn from the greats of the day.
This vibrant scene also proved to be fertile ground for the development of a wealth of local musicians who were to later find national and international acclaim spanning a wide range of styles. The clubs and concert halls in Bronzeville during this era produced an astounding array of local success stories including renowned jazz and R&B artists such as Nancy Wilson, Rusty Bryant, Hank Marr, Don Patterson, Sonny Craver, Roland Kirk, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Raleigh Randolph, Stomp Gordon and Larry Darnell, who were among the many locals who honed their talent on the stages in area clubs.
There was also a major vocal harmony scene that included local groups such as the Four Pharaohs, the Crowns, the Evans Sisters, the Supremes, the Five Fortunes, the Falcons, the Symbols, the Wallace Brothers, the Marquees, the Cordials, the Emperors and the Five Hearts. The rare recordings left behind by some of these groups are today treasured by collectors, who continue to pay unheard of prices for copies. Many of these recordings routinely continue to show up on European and Japanese compilation CD’s and bootleg recordings. Vocal harmony collectors around the world have long known about Columbus via these rare records and CD’s, but the stories and details behind many of these recordings and the artists who made them are rapidly fading as time marches on.
Morris Wade and the Four Pharaohs were a major ingredient in the rich vocal harmony heritage that emerged in Columbus during this era. Their story is a unique chapter in Columbus Music History that deserves to be preserved and shared.
Like the story of many 50's R & B recording groups, the history of the Four Pharaohs is one of complicated personnel changes and several name changes.
The original group, which formed in Columbus, Ohio, sometime in 1956, consisted of Robert Taylor-1st tenor (later to gain fame as Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers with Motown), Morris Wade-lead, Bernard Wilson-bass, and brother Ronnie Wilson-baritone and lead on the jump sides. The key to the group was Morris Wade. He was the one who helped form the group and the only one to remain with the group through several personnel and name changes until 1968.
Robert Taylor went to East High School in Columbus, while Bernard and Ronnie Wilson went to Central High School. Morris Wade went to both schools. Before the group was actually formed, Morris had his own ham-bone group. He was on Madame Rose Brown’s local television show, WTVN’s “The Rose Brown Show”, in 1954, beating the ham-bone and singing Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy on the same show with his cousins Stomp Gordon and Sonny Craver, and dancer Eddie Jay Colston.
[Note: In his younger years, Eddie Jay Colston, along with Leroy Jackson and Art Coleman, were known as the “Three Flames”, a local dancing trio. In his later years, Eddie Jay Colston wrote a long-standing weekly column in the Ohio Sentinel titled “A Nightlife Reporter At Large: Eddie Jay Says . . .” that covered the thriving entertainment scene in Columbus. Leroy Jackson’s son, Paul Jackson, later became a member of another Columbus vocal group, the Falcons, who recorded the highly collectable “Now That It’s Over b/w My Only Love” on the Abner and Falcon labels. And to follow the lineage even further, Paul Jackson’s daughter, Lisa Jackson, was a member of Teen Dream, which had national chart success in 1987 with “Let’s Get Busy” on the Warner Brothers label. Eddie Jay Colston passed away on September 22, 1960.]
The guys met through Morris and began playing at local hops around the city. By 1957 they had a manager named Howard Ransom who was a local Columbus businessman. At an out of town gig in Hamilton, Ohio, the group performed for Miss Dodds at a club she owned. Howard agreed to record the group for Miss Dodd's local label "ESTA”.