Experiencing Slim & the Supreme Angels is more than just a musical encounter-though it is every bit that and more. It's a journey through one of the richest, most vibrant veins of American music, and a window into the very essence of the Gospel quartet legacy.
Deeply inspiring, joyously uplifting, terrifically entertaining... words can attempt to describe the group's simple but soul deep music and message. But put the fancy words aside. All the proof necessary is right there in the grooves.
Howard "Slim" Hunt's personal history is a fascinating and richly woven narrative that not only tells his story, but paints a vivid picture of a defining era in the life of America and her people. No words can recount it better than those of the man himself:
"I grew up in Walnut Grove, Mississippi, a little town of several thousand folks, about 60 miles west of Jackson. We had a town square, with a big cedar tree right in the middle, and a bank and some stores. On Saturdays it was so busy with the wagons and cars and people shopping that you couldn't walk down the street without bumping into somebody. The town was broken down into `quarters.' The rich folks and the bad folks and the preachers and the poor folks all had their own quarters.
"In the late 30's and early 40's, my people were sharecroppers. We picked cotton and grew corn for feed. I mean to tell you, I came up on the rough side. That was during the war and times were tough. If we got two pairs of shoes in a year-one pair for work and school, and a Sunday pair too, we thanked God because that meant it had been a good year.
"My mother and grandma were God fearing women who went to church all the time and read the Bible a lot. By the time I was four years old, I was singing at our church, and family get togethers...neighbors houses, sometimes with my three older sisters. I remember working in the fields-I must've been eight or nine-and a plane would fly overhead. I'd get to daydreaming, and tell my mother how one day I'd be traveling, too. She'd fuss at me and say, `You'd better get back to work, boy. If I get that switch after you, you're gonna do some travelin' right now!'
"But I knew there was no future in farming, and when I was 17 I moved to New Orleans and lived with my sister and brother in law. I stayed there about six months. I worked down on the riverfront on a sightseeing boat called The Steamer President. It would take 350 people 15 miles up the Mississippi and back, twice a day. Even then, I would sing. I'd made up a song called, Stop Right Now, It's Prayin' Time. I'd sing so loud, the other guys started calling me `Stop Right Now,' instead of Howard. I didn't have any plans then, for music or anything else. I was trying to find myself in life. The Lord had a calling on me, but I just couldn't see it at the time.
"The following year, in 1953, when I was 18 years old, I moved to Milwaukee to stay with my oldest sister, working for a plumbing company. That didn't last and I was out of work until I heard about a group that needed a baritone singer. So I started on with them, but I still didn't know singing was going to be a career.
"I started playing guitar in 1956. I was in a group and we hired a guitar player, but he just couldn't catch on. I couldn't play much, but I grabbed it and starting banging on it, just to show him the rhythm. The other guys got quiet and after we were through said, `Man, the way you play, we need to buy you a guitar.' They did and I started playing along, listening to other players and learning every chance I got. I joined a local Milwaukee Gospel group called the Soul Seekers, but I'd still never made any kind of living at music. I was working in a candy factory.
"The Supreme Angels were a fairly popular group at that time, in Milwaukee and all around. They were originally called the Paramounts, but somebody else had already taken that name. They first recorded in 1956, and had some records that did real well for them: Jesus Let Me Sleep, Run to the Rock, Twelve Gates to the City. They were starting to make a name for themselves when, in 1958, their guitar player stole the guitar-it was the group's guitar...not his!-and went to Florida. Our group was rehearsing one day when one of the Supreme Angels came by and asked me if I would play for them that weekend. I did, and I guess they liked what they heard, because they asked me to stay on.
"Some of the guys in the group were preachers, and eventually they stopped singing and started pastoring churches. The rest of us decided to try to make a go singing rock'n'roll and the blues. We were packing out juke joints every night, but the church people begged us not to go that route. Some of the other fellows decided to go out on the road just playing churches. We traveled all over the U.S.A.
"It was pretty rough making a living since we didn't have a record out at that time, and we didn't have good sense either. We'd drive to Philadelphia to sing one night, and then get in the car and drive straight through to California-to make maybe $250. We were young. It never occurred to us, I guess, that we could have just stayed put where we were and done a lot better. Those were the days of segregation, and there weren't too many hotels that black people could stay in. But we were constantly blessed my church folk wherever we went who'd take us in and feed us, and give us a place to sleep.
"Things were so tight by the late '50s, the group broke up and left me out on the road alone because they couldn't make a living. Three of the guys went into the service. We had recorded Lord Bring Me Down, which was a big record for us, and was getting played all over. Promoters had booked the group, but there was no more group! I had to do a few shows solo, but people received me well.
"I hung onto the name the Supreme Angels, and kept going. I still didn't know where I was headed, but I knew I didn't want to give it up. For most of the '60s I did a lot of singing by myself, grabbing a guy here and there sometimes to back me up. Times were lean alright, but in 1969 I was able to put an actual group together, and from then on music was my life and my living. I depended on the money from bookings, and love offerings from the churches. Our breakthrough record came in 1974, Shame on You, which went gold for us. That put us on the map.
"We did well with records and concerts, but all along I felt something tugging at me...telling me that there was more to be done. Over those years, I know now, it was God speaking to my soul, calling me to preach. I was watching a TV preacher one morning and he pointed right at me. It was like an explosion inside me. I was crying and said, `Yes, I'll go Lord...I'll go.'
Slim became "Reverend Hunt" in 1986 when he finally accepted that calling to the ministry, founding the Deliverance Temple in Dillon, S.C., and combined an active church pastorate with his celebrated music ministry. He is currently in the process of building a new church in his nearby hometown of Goldsboro, S.C.
At a time of life when many men would feel rightly justified to slow down to a more restful pace of life, Rev. Howard "Slim" Hunt has no such thoughts even remotely in mind.
"People ask me sometimes about retiring," says Slim, "because I have been out there on the road-and writing and recording songs-for a long time now. But the word `retirement' is just not in my vocabulary. There are a lot of people-young and old-who still need to hear about the Lord and His offer of salvation. As long as I'm on this earth, I'll never stop proclaiming that."