For many recording artists, a Grammy nomination is considered the pinnacle of their career. Temple student Edwin Cornell McKnight thinks of it as just the beginning.
McKnight, a senior accounting major, sings bass for The Dixie Hummingbirds, a pioneering gospel group that has been around since the 1920s. They were nominated
in the Best Traditional Gospel category
for their 2006 release “Still Keeping it Real,” but did not take home the award, which was handed out Sunday night.
McKnight learned of the nomination
while on tour in Switzerland. Album producer Tony Beck received the call and passed the word on to the group.
“The first thing I did was send a mass text message to all my friends,” McKnight said “and then I put it on Facebook.”
McKnight was introduced to the Hummingbirds
in May 2005 when the group came to conduct an interview at radio station WRTI, where he works as a disc jockey. He was in the studio finishing up some work when the group heard him, gave him their card, and offered him an audition.
“One week later I went to them and I got the job,” McKnight said. “I started touring with them on June 1.”
Since joining the group McKnight has performed all over the United States and in Europe. He has worked with recording stars such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, The O’Jays and Destiny’s Child. In November 2005 he performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland during the gospel tribute to recording legend Sam Cooke.
Before becoming a Hummingbird, McKnight
was a fan. He is a self-described “bass singer enthusiast” and the Hummingbird’s late William Bobo was one of McKnight’s biggest influences. Bobo joined the group in 1938 and was the bass singer until his death in 1976. The Hummingbirds went without a bassist for 29 years until McKnight joined the group.
“It is an honor to continue the legacy of William Bobo. They are definitely some big shoes to fill,” he said. “Hopefully I can take what he did and add some of my own flavor to it and create a legacy of my own.”
McKnight looks at his time with the group as a learning experience. In his opinion
he couldn’t have a better mentor than Hummingbird front man Ira Tucker.
“He’s been around for a long time and he’s seen a lot of people come and go,” he said. “I get to learn music from the same man who influenced Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and James Brown.”
McKnight said he hopes to return the favor by being part of Tucker’s first Grammy award for an album. In 1973 the Hummingbirds won for Best Soul Gospel Performance for “Loves Me Like a Rock.”Performing music while remaining a student at Temple has been difficult, but through hard work McKnight said he has found a way to make it work.
“Sometimes the decisions are hard, but I feel like you have to stick to your calling, whether it’s music or accounting, or whatever,” McKnight said of following his dream.
“I’ve always loved music, and now it’s my nine-to-five.”
While performing with the Hummingbirds
is McKnight’s first professional singing gig, he has been an active musician for most of his life. At Temple, he was one of the original members of Broad Street Line, an all-male a cappella group on campus. Franco Vuono, McKnight’s former group mate, said, “Cornell was one of the most musically talented in our group.
“He had a very versatile voice and on top of that he loved to perform. I’m not surprised at his success.”
Music is going well for McKnight, and he hopes to be able to continue his career for a long time, whether with the Hummingbirds,
another group or as a solo artist.
“I’ll go wherever the music takes me,” McKnight said.
Music took him to Los Angeles for the 49th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, where he learned that Israel & New Breed’s “Alive in South America” took the award. Although hopeful before the night, McNight said winning was never his top focus.
“I’m just going to enjoy myself and soak it all in,” said McKnight. “Then it’s back to the drawing board.”
Aaron Hertzog can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.