The Sunshine Boys (1938-????)
The Sunshine Boys were formed in Macon, GA during the late 1930s as a Country and Western band. Original group members included John "Tennessee" Smith (tenor), his brother A. L. "Smitty" Smith (lead), Milton "Ace" Richman (bass), and Pat Patterson (baritone). Each member played a variety of instruments. The group initially performed on radio station WMAZ before moving to Atlanta, GA where they were on WAGA and WSB. Pat Patterson was the first to leave the group when he was drafted into military service in 1942. Eddie Wallace, a young musician who was attending Georgia Tech at the time, replaced Patterson. Wallace brought a gospel musical heritage to the group, so they expanded their repertoire to include gospel music.
The Sunshine Boys demonstrated their versatility at this time by performing as two different groups on radio station WAGA. The station needed a Western swing band, so the Sunshine Boys temporarily became the Light Crust Doughboys. They performed a 15-minute radio program as the Light Crust Doughboys with guitar, bass, fiddle and an accordion as accompaniment. During a thirty-second commercial break, the group would transform themselves into the Sunshine Boys. Eddie Wallace would move to the piano, swing the microphones around, and the Sunshine Boys would sing a 15-minute gospel program. This lasted for several years, and very few listeners realized they were listening to the same group. The group was always billed as the Sunshine Boys at concerts.
In 1945, the Sunshine Boys traveled to California to begin a career in motion pictures. They appeared in a series of Western films with stars like Eddie Dean, Lash Larue, Smiley Burnette, and Charles Starrett, a.k.a. the Durango Kid. In these films, the Sunshine Boys would sing Western songs and spirituals in the context of the movie.
The Sunshine Boys recorded a few gospel songs for the Village label in 1945 and some secular numbers for the Pan-American label in 1947. The Smith brothers were more interested in pursuing country and western music, so in 1949, they left the Sunshine Boys. This was their first personnel change in nearly seven years. Ace Richman and Eddie Wallace performed for a short time billed as the Travelers Quartet, hiring Horace Floyd (tenor) and J. D. Sumner (bass). Fred Daniel of Covington, GA. soon replaced Floyd. The group then relocated to Wheeling, WV to sing at radio station WWVA.
Wallace, Richman, Daniel, and Sumner divided their time between Wheeling and Atlanta with occasional trips to Hollywood to pursue their movie career. In the early 1950s, the Sunshine Boys signed a major record contract with Decca Records. Their affiliation with Decca led to them to take part in one of the biggest-selling recordings in gospel music history when they sang backing vocals on Red Foley's hit "Peace in the Valley".
In 1954, the Blackwood Brothers hired J. D. Sumner to sing bass. This brought about the first personnel change for the Sunshine Boys in several years. Johnny Atkinson was chosen to replace Sumner. During this time, the Sunshine Boys began a network program for Minute Rice. The Sunshine Boys also did commercials for other products such as General Foods, Prince Albert pipe tobacco, and Tube Rose Snuff.
Burl Strevel left the Blue Ridge Quartet and joined the Sunshine Boys in 1956 replacing Johnny Atkinson. The Sunshine Boys moved to Nevada in 1960 and became the first gospel artist to headline in major hotels on the Nevada circuit. Their blend of gospel and western music made them favorites on the circuit. It was around 1963 that the Sunshine Boys changed their name to The Diplomats. In 1964, Strevel rejoined the Blue Ridge Quartet replacing George Younce, and Jim Boatman joined "The Diplomats" as bass singer. Several musicians would perform with The Diplomats over the next few years such as Jerry Wallace, Jim Roberson, George Walmark, and Lee Sierra.
Around 1967, the Diplomats added female vocalist Kathy Zee to the group. Kathy was a talented young singer known for her hits such as "Buzzin" and "Your Name, Your Name". For the next few years, the Diplomats would consist of Woody Woodruff (drums), Jerry Wallace (lead guitar), Eddie Wallace (piano), Ace Richman (bass guitar), and vocalist Kathy Zee. This group performed at the Mapes Hotel in Reno, the Nevada Lodge in Lake Tahoe, and the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and was very popular in this circuit.
The Sunshine Boys ceased traveling full-time years ago but continued to perform on a limited basis. They typically enlisted the services of the late J. D. Sumner or the late Johnny Atkinson to fill the bass slot. The group was featured at “Old Timers Night” at the National Quartet Convention for several years. They were also regular performers at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion. In the early 2000s, Fred Daniel, Bob Shaw, Jimmy Jones, and Ed Wallace performed in the Atlanta, GA area billed as the Sunshine Boys.