The roots of The Sweet Inspirations can be traced back to a family gospel group called The Drinkard Singers, formed in Savannah, Georgia in 1938, which featured Emily Drinkard and her siblings. Emily later married and became known as Cissy Houston, and was the mother of Whitney Houston. Her sister Lee was also the mother of Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick. The early 60s saw them develop from a gospel group to a group of much in demand female backing vocalists. Singers who were associated with the group during this transitional period included both Warwick sisters, Doris Troy and Judy Clay, all who went on to successful solo careers in the 60s. They recorded backing vocals for R&B artists including Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Garnet Mimms, Maxine Brown, Esther Phillips, Chuck Jackson and most famously Aretha Franklin.
Eventually the group settled on the lineup of Cissy Houston, Myrna Smith, Sylvia Shemwell (Judy Clay's sister) and Estelle Brown. They first recorded by themselves as The Sweet Inspirations when signed to Atlantic Records in 1967. They were sent to Chips Moman's American Sound Studio in Memphis, where they recorded enough material for an album. Two singles, covers of The Staple Singers' "Why (Am I Treated So Bad)" and the classic "Let It Be Me", reached #36 and #13 on the R&B chart respectively. One song written especially for them by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham gave them a big hit - "Sweet Inspiration" reached both #5 on the R&B chart and #18 on the pop chart.
Their debut album contained these three songs alongside a selection of cover material, including Wilson Pickett's "Don't Fight It", Eddie Floyd's "Knock On Wood", Aretha Franklin's "Do Right Woman" and "Don't Let Me Lose This Dream", Dionne Warwick's "Reach Out For Me" and the country standard "Blues Stay Away From Me".
|> Songs Of Faith And Inspiration (1968)