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sweet inspirations

Sweet Inspirations

in 1968 (l to r: Cissy Drinkard Houston, Myrna Smith, Sylvia Shemwell and Estelle Brown)

The Sweet Inspirations were one of the first Gospel groups to have an album released on a major record label, which was a live recording (released in 1959), of their performance at the Newport Jazz Festival.

The group, at various times, comprised of:

Cissy Houston

Cissy Houston (a.k.a. Emily Drinkard, 30th September 1933, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.A.) (above)

Dee Dee Warwick

Dee Dee Warwick (Delia Mae Warrick, 25th September 1945, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.A.) (above)

Lee Warwick

Myrna Smith

Myrna Smith (b. 28th May 1941, U.S.A. d. 24th December 2010, Canoga Park, California, U.S.A.) (above)

Judy Guions (a.k.a. Judy Clay, a.k.a. b. Judith Grace Gatewood, 12th September 1938, St. Paul, North Carolina, U.S.A. d. 19th July 2001, Fayetteville, Cumberland County, North Carolina, U.S.A.) (above)

Marie Epps (above)

Larry Drinkard (above)

Nicholas Drinkard

Doris Troy

Doris Troy (b. Doris Higginson, 6th January 1937, New York City, U.S.A. d. 16th February 2004, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A.) (above)

Gloria Brown

Portia Griffin

Marna Smith

Marna Smith (above)

Sylvia Shemwell

Sylvia Shemwell (Judy Clay's sister, b. Sylvia Jean Shemwell, 30th June 1941, Fayetteville, Cumberland County, North Carolina, U.S.A. d. 13th February 2010, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.) (above)

Estelle Brown

Estelle Brown (above)

Ann Williams (above)


Ann Moss

Ann Moss (above)

The nature of the Gospel ensembles at the time, allowed for many different performers to participate in the group and their performances.

Emily Drinkard is the mother of Whitney Houston.

Her sister, Lee Warwick, was the mother of the Soul Singers Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick.

Lee Drinkard Warrick passed away in 2005.

Drinkard Singers

the drinkard sisters in 1958 (judy clay-centre, ann moss, larry drinkard, lee warwick and marie epps)

Emily and Lee were originally part of the family group, the Drinkard Singers.

She, and her niece, Dee Dee Warwick, along with Doris Troy, founded the Sweet Inspirations.

Their early popularity ensured there was no shortage of work, relating to all aspects of the Soul Music scene during the early Sixties.

Judy Clay and Larry Drinkard

judy clay and larry drinkard in the drinkard singers - 1958

Doris Troy, Judy Clay and Dionne Warwick were later to have flourishing musical careers, with the Sweet Inspirations participating on many of the secular sessions.

Cissy took the place of Dionne Warwick following the departure of Dionne from the group.

Sylvia Shemwell did likewise for a departing Doris Troy.

Dee Dee Warwick became the groups lead vocalist.

The Sweet Inspirations

The Sweet Inspirations can be heard on many Soul melodies by major artists, including Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, Esther Phillips and Aretha Franklin.

Dee Dee left the group during 1965, and was replaced by Myrna Smith.

Estelle Brown joined the team soon after, with the group signing to the Atlantic imprint around that time.

The Sweet Inspirations sang backgrounds for Van Morrison on the song 'Brown Eyed Girl', which was released in June 1967.

'Brown Eyed Girl' reached number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

The Sweet InspirationsSongs Of Faith

the sweet inspirations - 1967 / songs of faith and inspiration - 1968

The Sweet Inspirations released their first album in 1967 for Atlantic Records.

The self titled album saw two single releases, namely, 'Why (Am I Treated So Bad)' and 'Let It Be Me', a song previously recorded by Betty Everett & Jerry Butler in 1964.

The following year saw a second album release entitled 'Songs Of Faith & Inspiration', which was released by the group under the name of Cissy Drinkard & The Sweet Inspirations.

What The World NeedsSweets For My Sweet

what the world needs now is love - 1968 / sweets for my sweet - 1969

A third album arrived the same year, entitled 'What The World Needs Now Is Love', which featured their versions of the BeeGees song 'To Love Somebody', and the Righteous Brothers 'Unchained Melody'.

1968 not only saw two albums out on Atlantic, but also the group recorded sessions for Jimi Hendrix on his Electric Ladyland' album, and took time to contribute to Dusty Springfield's classic album 'Dusty In Memphis'.

The Sweet Inspirations were then enlisted by Elvis Presley for tour dates (becoming a regular feature in his entourage), whilst also recording alongside fellow Atlantic stablemate, Aretha Franklin when time allowed.

Their fourth album followed in 1969, entitled 'Sweets For My Sweet', and featured the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.

Sweet Sweet LoveEstelle Myrna and Sylvia

sweet, sweet soul - 1970 / estelle, myrna and sylvia - 1973

Cissy Houston left the group that year to pursue family commitments, although a couple of sessions recorded prior to her departure delivered the Gamble & Huff tune 'Gotta Find Me A Brand New Lover', which finally saw the light of day on the group's fifth album 'Sweet, Sweet Soul' (released in 1970).

'Sweet, Sweet Soul' was recorded in late 1970, with Sylvia, Estelle, Myrna and new member Ann Williams, who was a friend of Estelle’s who remind for what turned out to be the group’s last full Atlantic album.

The album featured the songs 'That’s The Way My Baby Is' and 'Flash In The Pan".

Ann Wiiliams then departed the group, whilst touring with Elvis Presley, leaving the group a trio for their last two singles for the label, namely 'This World' and 'Evidence'.

The Sweet Inspirations relocated to the Stax imprint for 'Estelle, Myrna And Sylvia' in 1973.

In 1978, the group sang backing vocals on Frankie Valli's No.1 hit 'Grease' from the John Travolta/Olivia Newton John movie vehicle.

Sweet Inspirations in 1979

By 1979, Estelle had departed the group and was replaced by Gloria Brown, who did not participate in the RSO album release, entitled 'Hot Butterfly' that year, (a role taken by the singer Pat Terry).

Hot ButterflyIn The Right Place

hot butterfly - 1979 / in the right place - 2005

They toured with the BeeGees that year on their 'Spirits Having Flown' tour.

The Sweet Inspirations disbanded after that album release, reforming in 1994, with the line-up of Estelle, Myrna and Sylvia, along with a new recruit, Portia Griffin.

The group performed background vocals for the Rock group The Killers in 2004, on their tracks 'Andy', 'You're a Star' and 'All These Things That I've Done'.

The Sweet Inspirations released a new album entitled 'In The Right Place' for the Frixion imprint, in 2005.

Sylvia Shernwell passed away on the 13th of February 2010.

In March that year, Myrna Smith developed pneumonia, subsequently, she suffered kidney failure, and further complicated by a severe stroke.

Myrna passed away at the Canyon Oaks Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Canoga Park, California on Christmas Eve 2010.

The Sweet Inspirations performances are currently on hold.

The Sweet Inspirations can check the group's tour website here....

Real Player


The Sweet Inspirations (Atlantic Records 1967)

Songs Of Faith And Inspiration (Atlantic Records 1968)

What The World Needs Now Is Love (Atlantic Records 1968)

Sweets For My Sweet (Atlantic Records 1969)

Sweet, Sweet Soul (Atlantic Records 1970)

Estelle, Myrna And Sylvia (Stax Records 1973)

Hot Butterfly (RSO Records 1979)

In The Right Place (Frixion Records 2005)

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