The group's origins date back to the late '50's when a gospel group calling themselves The Drinkard Singers did some traditional gospel recordings for RCA Records. Led by Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney), along with her nieces Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick and sisters Judy and Sylvia Guions, they slowly began to develop more of a "pop" sound as their love for rock and roll music grew. (Early on, Doris Troy, who had the first big hit with "Just One Look" back in 1963, also sang with the group.)
Dee Dee and ESPECIALLY Dionne Warwick went on to have big, solo careers after leaving the group. Judy Guions hit the charts a couple of times as Judy Clay, singing duets with Billy Vera and Sylvia Guions (now calling herself Sylvia Shemwell) stuck with Cissy Houston as The Drinkard Singers continued to change personnel.
In the process, they became one of the highest regarded (and most recorded) group of background singers on record. Their first real "rock" record came when they were asked to sing back up for Ronnie Hawkins and the group that would later become known as The Band. Before being signed to Atlantic Records (and being renamed "The Sweet Inspirations" by the legendary Jerry Wexler), the girls (Cissy and Sylvia, now teamed with Estelle Brown and Myra Smith) recorded background vocals for everyone from Neil Diamond to Aretha Franklin to Dusty Springfield to Wilson Pickett as well as literally DOZENS of other well known pop acts. (According to Wikipedia, they also sang background on Van Morrison's big hit "Brown Eyed Girl" and did some selected vocals on the Jimi Hendrix / Electric Ladyland LP!)
In 1967, Wexler decided to let them cut their OWN recordings ... and, after a couple of minor chart successes, "Sweet Inspiration" became a Top 20 Hit a year later. After none of their other singles reached The Top 50, The Sweet Inspirations were soon back to singing back-up, gaining a whole new allegience of fans once they started singing behind Elvis Presley in Las Vegas during his late '60's / early '70's comeback.
Cissy Houston left the quartet in 1970 to pursue a solo career but, when nothing really materialized, she soon found herself on the road singing back-up for her niece Dionne Warwick. Meanwhile, Estelle Brown and Myra Smith are still recording (along with Portia Griffin) as The Sweet Inspirations today. (Original member Sylvia Shemwell, who used to sing with the group as well as introduce them on stage, suffered a stroke in 2001 and, as such, is no longer able to perform with her "soul sisters".)
Meanwhile, The Sweet Inspirations have a brand new song posted on their website ... and you can check it out here:
Click here: Sweet Inspirations On The Web!