Legendary singer dies

June 26, 2008 7:35:19 PM PDT
Ira Tucker Sr., longtime lead singer of the gospel group the Dixie Hummingbirds, which influenced many other performers and backed up Paul Simon on "Loves Me Like a Rock," has died. He was 83. Tucker had severe heart problems and died Tuesday in Philadelphia, where the group was based for many years, according to his son.

Among those influenced by the band were the Temptations, James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Al Green, according the National Endowment for the Arts, which honored the Hummingbirds in 2000.

They became widely known to Top 40 radio listeners in 1973, when Simon's "Loves Me Like a Rock" reached No. 2 on the Billboard chart. Besides singing backup with Simon, the Dixie Hummingbirds also produced their own version, which won a Grammy for best soul gospel performance.

In 2007, the group's "Still Keeping It Real" was nominated for the Grammy for best traditional gospel album.

The Dixie Hummingbirds traces its history to 1928, when founder James B. Davis formed it as a student quartet in Greenville, S.C.

Tucker, born in 1925 in Spartanburg, S.C., was still in his teens when he auditioned for Davis in the late 1930s.

He was the band's lead singer for decades thereafter, bringing a mixture of gospel and blues to the group's style, and adding an energy and versatility to their performances, according to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, which inducted the group in 2000.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)