Sacred Music Traditions
Sacred Music Traditions
Sacred Music Traditions
Christopher A. Brooks
African American sacred music—slave songs, early religious songs, spirituals, and gospel music—is an expression of African American culture that is no less significant than blues and jazz. Originally rooted in the enslavement experience of early Africans, African American sacred music was later influenced by evangelical Protestant Christianity and performed at African American churches and camp meeting revivals. As time passed, it took on different forms and gained larger acceptance among European and white American concert audiences. Today through both live performances and commercial recordings, it encompasses a wide range of styles and ensembles, reaches an audience of millions worldwide, and is recognized as a vitally important element in America’s cultural heritage.
SYNCRETIZED RELIGIONS OF THE AFRICAN DIASPORA
Of the more than 20 million Africans who were brought to the New World, the vast majority of them were enslaved from the sixteenth through the middle of the nineteenth centuries. Despite the enslavement experience, many Africans maintained and practiced some variation of their traditional beliefs, culture, and musical heritage. An area that combined these customs with some European influences was their religious practices. Many Africans in the New World—especially those in Catholic-colonized areas—became nominal Christians, but continued to practice their traditional African belief systems, which they adapted to Western religions. These syncretized religions were fertile ground for maintaining many ritualized African chanting practices and song styles, while the worshipping practices were nominally Christian. Examples of such New World syncretized religions are Candomble in Brazil, Santeria in Cuba and Puerto Rico, Vodun in Haiti, and to a lesser extent, Kumina in Jamaica. There is still a rich musical tradition associated with many of these religious beliefs, although local musical influences have had an effect as well. Many of these sacred music practices survived in one form or another well into the twentieth century.
AMERICAN COLONIAL AND ANTEBELLUM PERIODS
Most musical activity in American colonial society was vocal, although there are late eighteenth century paintings that depict enslaved Africans playing string instruments and dancing. Since much of American colonial society, both black and white, was not literate, the method of collective song teaching (as in a church service, for example) was done by a technique called “lining out.” This process involved a leader who sang a line or two of a song or hymn, sometimes over-enunciating the words. The congregation followed by singing the same line after the leader. This method can still be found in some African American churches.
Other indications of African American musical activity during the eighteenth century can be gleaned from chronicle accounts in news journals in Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia. When papers in these areas reported missing or fugitive African Americans, they frequently commented on their musical ability (on a particular instrument, for example), along with some physical description.
The period after the American Revolutionary War saw the emergence of two important African American institutions: the self-help benevolent societies and the African independent church movement. The benevolent societies, such as the African Union Society (Rhode Island), Free African Society (Philadelphia), Brown Fellowship (Charleston), the Society of Free Africans (Washington, D.C.), and the African Society of Boston, were among several pseudo-religious moral aid groups that were formed to help recently freed African Americans. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, several independent African churches began emerging in both southern and northern states. Many churches in the South, however, were either very closely scrutinized or shut down because of uprisings that were planned or carried out by insurrectionists, such as Gabriel’s Rebellion in Richmond, Virginia (1800), Denmark Vesey in Charleston, South Carolina (1822), and Nat Turner outside Southampton, Virginia (1831). Nat Turner had a considerable knowledge of the Old and New Testaments and used this knowledge to recruit participants. While the Gabriel, Denmark Vesey, and Nat Turner campaigns were among the better known movements, more than 200 similar organized freedom or liberation actions were staged between 1800 and 1850.
By the late eighteenth century, Methodism had claimed large numbers of African Americans because of its official anti-slavery stance. The celebrated religious leader and Free African Society founding member, Richard Allen, established the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in 1794, after a break with the mostly white Old St. Georges Methodist Church in Philadelphia (in 1816, the AME Church formally separated from the mother Methodist Church). In 1801, Allen published a collection of religious songs entitled A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns from Various Authors. It eventually became the most widely used religious songbook in African American Protestant churches around the United States and, by the end of the nineteenth century, the eleventh edition was published with notated music.
Another African American religious phenomenon of the early nineteenth century involved the camp meeting. These outdoor religious services were inspired by the Second Great Awakening movement that spread across the United States in that century. Many African American participants were known to perform dances, such as the
“ring shout” and “shuffle step.” Such religious behavior was criticized by some purists, such as Richard Allen, but was clearly acceptable among a growing sector of African American worshippers.
Spirituals were perhaps the most significant musical contribution of the enslaved African population of the nineteenth century. They have certainly gained most of the attention of collectors, scholars, and those with a casual interest in the musical genre. Spirituals are an outgrowth of the African American enslavement experience and Protestant Christianity. A similar tradition apparently did not develop on the African continent or anywhere else within nations of the African Diaspora. So to that degree, the spirituals are, from all existing evidence, uniquely American.
There are few absolute features that can be pointed to when trying to distinguish one spiritual from another. Uptempo songs such as A Great Camp Meetin’ might have been called a “jubilee,” while an equally spirited I’m Gonna Lift Up a Standard for My King might have been regarded as a “shout.” The terms “plantation songs” and “slave songs” were also used to describe spirituals. An apparent standard feature of the spiritual, however, was its employment of African American dialect. One of the earliest collections of spirituals was Slave Songs of the United States (1867). It was a collaborative work of William Allen, Charles Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison, all of whom had abolitionist backgrounds. In the preface of the work, they commented on the uniqueness of African American vocal styles and the inability of conventional Western musical notation to accurately transcribe the unique vocal effects such as screams, yodels, falsetto, and glissandi, which they heard when the songs were performed.
It was the apparent disregard of these performance practices, among other things, that would lead some scholars, such as George Pullen Jackson, Neuman White, and Donald Wilgus, to promote a “white” spiritual theory. They argued that because it was the Europeans who gave Christianity to the enslaved Africans, they also gave them the music with which to worship. This argument has been soundly refuted, however, because Jackson was comparing printed versions of spirituals (i.e., arranged spirituals in Western musical notation) to those of Western European folk songs and saw similarities in melodies and time signatures. This school of thought also neglected the fact that the majority of spirituals employ a call-and-response performance technique, and that was not a traditional feature of Western European folk songs.
ALERT AND MAP SONGS
Although they functioned in an entirely different capacity, a tradition related to spirituals was the “alert songs” and “map songs.” While the text of these songs was ostensibly religious, the alert songs encoded messages or signals about escape attempts or planned secret meetings of enslaved African Americans. Examples of such songs included Steal Away to Jesus, Good News the Chariot’s Comin’, Wade in the Water, and I’m Packin’ Up. In fact, Wade in the Water was known to be a frequently used alert song of the celebrated conductor Harriet Tubman. “Wading” in the water in the religious context was a reference to being baptized, and the later text in the song, “God’s gonna trouble the water,” meant God will wash the newly baptized sins away. However, in addition to the religious meaning of the song, there was a very practical use for “wading in the water.” By doing so, the runaway could also mask any body scent, which made it more difficult for the search dogs to follow those who were escaping.
Map songs were designed to give directions to fugitives. In the song Sheep, Sheep, Don’t You Know the Road?, the use of the word “road” could have encoded some message about a specific escape route. Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd was another map song that was a metaphoric allusion to the Big Dipper, and the escapees were to follow it north to freedom. Another well-known map song, Moses also had a strategic function:
Moses, Moses, don’t you let king pharaoh overtake you, (repeated)
in some lonesome grave yard.
On the surface, this song was a call to the faithful to stay strong in the religion, but the reference to “grave yard” was the operational word as a likely meeting place. Such secret meetings were sometimes used to plan undercover activities.
It was clear that by the 1870s, the genre known alternately as spirituals, plantation songs, and jubilees was inextricably linked to the African American enslavement experience, and it was viewed by much of the American public as an acceptable form of religious expression. Evidence of this can be seen in the large numbers of spiritual collections that appear throughout the balance of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century. Volumes and collections such as Hampton and Its Students (1874), The Story of the Jubilee Singers (1877), The Jubilee Singers (1883), Jubilee and Plantation Songs (1884), Old Plantation Melodies (1899), Songs of the Confederacy and Plantation Songs (1901), Nine Negro Spirituals (1918), Sit Down, Negro Spirituals, arranged by Roland Hayes (1923), and Book of Negro Spirituals (1938), among many others, illustrate this point.
Attention was being drawn to spirituals not only through the collections, essays, books, and articles, but through live performances as well. By the 1870s, concerts of spirituals had become a fundraising vehicle for several struggling African American colleges, most notably Calhoun College, Fisk University, Hampton Institute, and to a lesser extent, Tuskegee Institute. Several of these groups made highly successful overseas tours in what Paul Fritz Laubenstein referred to as the ausbreitung (spreading) around the European continent.
With the frequency and popularity of these overseas tours by the 1890s, European and American audiences were exposed to a different kind of African American musical talent, other than what had been featured in minstrel shows. When the celebrated Bohemian composer Antonín Dvořák recognized the uniqueness of this genre and encouraged his students, such as Harry T. Burleigh (1866–1949) and Will Marion Cook (1869–1944), to compose and arrange more spirituals, it was given a new level of acceptance and recognition.
Other arranged spirituals came from other composers and arrangers, such as R. Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943). Dett was best known at Hampton Institute for organizing a choir composed of students and community members and transforming the group into an internationally renowned touring organization that specialized in African American sacred music. Many of the songs that the choir performed were Dett’s own compositions or arrangements of spirituals. Among his choristers was the celebrated soprano Dorothy Maynor (1910–1996) who became a distinguished concert singer and recitalist.
On several occasions, Dett was compelled to defend his performance of “arranged” spirituals, which were not viewed as authentic as the “folk” versions of the genre that were accompanied by claps, body swaying, and shouts. Several white observers and benefactors such as George Peabody saw the Dett arrangements as imitations of white classical composers and, as such, not as genuine. However, the Hampton group had a highly successful tour of Europe in 1930.
The first all-spiritual solo recital, however, seems to have been offered by Paul Robeson (1898–1976) in 1925. He, of course, frequently performed the genre in his many concerts throughout Europe and included them in some of his Hollywood films. Roland Hayes (1887–1977) also began arranging spirituals which were also a mainstay of his recitals internationally.
The production of arranged spirituals would continue in the skillful hands of other musical luminaries, such as Hall Johnson (1888–1970), John W. Work (1901–1967), Florence Price (1887–1953), J. Rosamund Johnson (1873–1954), W. C. Handy (1873–1958), Edward Boatner, (1898–1981), William Dawson (1899–1990). They all distinguished themselves and their arrangements were widely preformed. In a later generation, Moses Hogan (1957–2003) and Jacqueline Hairston are among those who have continued the tradition.
The live performances and recorded legacy of African American concert singers featuring spirituals in their recitals was a practice that continued throughout the twentieth century in the artistry of singers, such as Marian Anderson (1897–1993), Roland Hayes (1887– 1977), Dorothy Maynor, Todd Duncan (1903–1998), Robert McFerrin (1921–2006), Leontyne Price, Shirley Verrett, Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, Florence Quivar, Simon Estes, George Shirley, William Warfield (1920–2002), and Benjamin Matthews (1934–2006), who routinely devoted a section of their solo recitals to singing these sacred songs. It has become, in fact, the expectation that African American vocalists will include them as part of their programs.
In 1999, Robert Sims, William Warfield, and Benjamin Matthews formed a group called Three Generations, which explored African American spiritual repertoire from three generations (i.e., from the group’s oldest member Warfield to Matthews to Sims, the youngest). The group continued after the death of Warfield in 2002. After the death of Matthews in 2006, Robert Sims has emerged as one the country’s eminent practitioners in the spiritual repertoire.
HOLY DANCING, CHURCH SONG CONCERTS, AND SHOUT PREACHERS
Although much scholarly and casual interest was directed to the spiritual, other African American sacred music traditions emerged by the end of the nineteenth century as the African American church movement itself gained momentum. By the 1890s, the Holiness and Sanctified Church movement had crystallized. The largest denomination within this tradition, the Church of God and Christ, was founded by the Memphis-based religious leader, Charles Harrison Mason (1866–1961), formerly of Lexington, Mississippi. Collectively, the Holiness/Sanctified churches believed in spirit possession, speaking in tongues (i.e., a form of glossolalia), and improvisational singing. “Holy dancing” was also seen as an acceptable form of religious behavior. Certain instruments such as drums, tambourines, triangles, guitars, and cymbals were frequently used to accompany the singing.
A figure at the turn of the century who played a role in what would come to be called “gospel” music was Rev. Charles Albert Tindley (c. 1851–1933). Tindley was a Maryland-born Methodist camp meeting preacher and singer who, in the 1870s, settled in Philadelphia. There he founded the East Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church in 1902. It was later renamed the Tindley Temple. Tindley established a practice of sponsoring periodic concerts of church songs and, consequently, had many of his compositions published in a 1916 collection entitled The New Songs of Paradise. Included in this collection were such songs as Leave It There, What Are They Doing in Heaven Tonight, We’ll Understand it Better By and By, and I’ll Overcome Someday, which was the melodic basis of the 1960s civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome. The collection was so popular that several subsequent editions would appear by the 1940s.
Although Tindley had the support of his congregation, other religious songwriters received support from such organizations as the National Baptist Convention, which was founded in the 1890s. It became a vehicle for groups to perform and for exposing congregations and individuals to religious music. In 1921, the National Baptist Convention produced a collection of 165 religious songs, entitled Gospel Pearls. This work was enormously popular in many African American congregations without regard for denomination.
By the 1920s, singing ministers, or so-called “shout” preachers, began recording brief three- to five-minute sermons and song performances. These recorded sermons might include a congregation or a small choir. Celebrated names in this tradition were Revs. F.W. McGee (1890–1971) of Memphis, J.C. Burnett of Kansas City, Theodore Frye from Mississippi, E.H. Hall of Chicago, and A.W. Nix and J.M. Gates (1884–1945) of Atlanta.
As one of the best known of the shout preachers, Gates’s style was captured in several recordings that have recently been released in the compact disk format. In mini sermons such as “Mannish Woman,” where he challenged women walking like men, and men walking like women, are among the many that have been preserved. “Death’s Black Train Is Comin’,” “Praying for the Pastor,” “There’s One Thing I know,” “The Need of Prayer,” and “Down Here Lord, Waiting on You” are among his extensive recorded religious performances. When he passed away in Atlanta in 1945, thousands of African American faithful showed up at his funeral.
Although the term “gospel music” did not become a standard phrase in reference to a specific African American sacred musical genre before the 1930s, its predecessors were in place long before that time. Many scholars regard Chicago as the birthplace of gospel music because many of its churches produced pioneering singers and composers. The figure most closely associated with the rise of the so-called blues-based gospel was Thomas A. Dorsey (1899–1993), commonly known as the “Father of Gospel Music.”
THOMAS DORSEY: FATHER OF GOSPEL MUSIC
Born in rural Georgia, Dorsey was the eldest child of a Baptist minister who he frequently accompanied on the keyboard during his father’s evangelizing trips. Dorsey eventually moved to Atlanta when he was a teenager and played keyboard in brothels and saloons. In 1916, Dorsey made a stop in Chicago en route to Philadelphia, and it became his home base for the rest of his life. He initially pursued his career as a blues musician and was known at varying points in his career as “Georgia Tom,” “Barrelhouse Tommy,” and by a few other names. Several of his blues compositions were recorded by jazz greats such as Joseph “King” Oliver (1895– 1938), among others. Between 1923 and 1926, he was the official accompanist for the great blues singer, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey. He toured with Rainey and was featured in several of her recordings for the Paramount label. When he married Nettie Harper in 1925, Rainey made her a wardrobe mistress so she could travel with the group.
Although Dorsey had strong credentials as a bluesman, he continued to foster his religious music beginnings from his childhood. He attended the National Baptist Convention in 1920 and had one of his songs, Some Day, Somewhere, published in the Convention’s 1921 collection, Gospel Pearls. Around 1927, he began “peddling” (i.e., Dorsey accompanying a singer at the keyboard) his religious songs in Chicago area churches, but they were rejected by many ministers because of their stylistic affinity to the blues. In 1931, Dorsey experienced a double personal tragedy when his daughter and first wife, Nettie, died in childbirth. Afterwards, he composed Take My Hand, Precious Lord, which has remained his most celebrated and frequently performed work.
By the 1930s, Dorsey was more devoted to composing and promoting religious music. In 1931, he formed the world’s first gospel choir at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Chicago and opened the first publishing company devoted to the sale of gospel music. With his colleague, Sallie Martin (1895–1988), he founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses as a vehicle for training gospel choirs and soloists. More than any single individual, Dorsey was responsible for elevating gospel music to its current professional status.
WILLIE MAE FORD SMITH INFLUENCES FUTURE SINGERS
In addition to Sallie Martin, who also acted as his business manager and was a celebrated name in gospel music in her own right, Dorsey discovered a talented singer, Willie Mae Ford Smith (1904–1994) who, in 1936, Dorsey appointed as the director of the Soloists Bureau of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. In this role, she demonstrated the proper style and delivery of gospel songs to a new generation of younger singers. Also influenced by the blues in her childhood, Smith later abandoned what would have been a prominent career as a gospel singer to become an ordained evangelist in the Holiness Church of God Apostolic. As an evangelist, Smith frequently interspersed songs with a brief sermon, a practice that became known as “sermonette and song.” Smith and Dorsey were featured in the 1982 gospel music documentary Say Amen, Somebody.
MAHALIA JACKSON BECOMES GOSPEL’S INTERNATIONAL STAR
Among Dorsey’s other celebrated discoveries was Mahalia Jackson (c.1912–1972) who became gospel music’s first international star. Born in New Orleans, Jackson moved to Chicago in the 1920s to pursue a career as a beautician. Dorsey first met her in 1929 and became her official
accompanist from 1937 to 1946. Jackson began a recording career in the 1930s, but did not achieve national fame until she recorded the song of the celebrated Memphis minister and composer, Rev. W. Herbert Brewster (1897–1992), Move On Up a Little Higher, which sold over one million copies. She toured extensively in Europe, gaining a wide following in several countries. Jackson gave a highly successful concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall in the early 1950s and was invited to sing at the White House in 1961 by the recently inaugurated President John F. Kennedy.
While the civil rights movement was in full swing in the 1960s, gospel music became an unofficial vehicle for the movement because many of its songs became the basis for freedom songs of the era. Mahalia Jackson was a major supporter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and reached an international audience when she sang at the 1963 March on Washington.
GOSPEL QUARTETS AND CHOIRS
By the end of the 1930s, gospel music had established at least two generic performing groups. The first was the all-male “gospel quartet,” which was made up of four or five singers dressed in business suits who sang in a cappella barber shop-style harmonies. The second was the “gospel chorus,” which could be women and men (or all women) dressed in choir robes who were accompanied by piano or organ. Prominent gospel quartets included such groups as the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, the Famous Blue Jay Singers, the Jubilaires, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Fairfield Four, the Soul Stirrers, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, among many others. Notable gospel choirs included such groups as the Ford Family Quartet, the Roberta Martin Singers, the Clara Ward Singers—another group that Thomas Dorsey would discover and help to promote—and later the Barrett Sisters.
Gospel music experienced a golden age from the mid-1940s to the 1950s when, in addition to the numerous recordings that were made, such women as Lucie Campbell (1885– 1963), Roberta Martin (1907–1969), Queen C. Anderson, Ruth Davis (d.1970), Dorothy Loves Coates (1928–2002), Edna Gallmon Cooke (1917–1967), and Bessie Griffin (1922–1989) were among the most celebrated names in the gospel business. Their male counterparts were Julius Cheeks (1929–1981), Archie Brownlee (1925–1960), Brother Joe May (1912–1972), Alex Bradford (c.1926– 1978), James Cleveland (1931–1991), Claude Jeter (b.1914), and Ira Tucker, among others. By the end of this period, gospel music had shaken itself free of its Pentecostal/Holiness roots to reach widespread acceptance in many African American Protestant churches around the United States. Instrumentally, the organ, at this time, also became the standard accompanying instrument for most church-based gospel ensembles.
By the 1960s, gospel was experiencing other changes. As far back as the late 1930s, such religious singers as Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915–1973) had performed gospel music outside of the church by performing in New York’s Apollo Theater. However, when such groups as the Clara Ward Singers performed at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957 and, subsequently, in nightclubs in the early 1960s, gospel music was blended with other popular musical genres and reached a crossover audience. Such gospel groups as the Staple Singers and the Edwin Hawkins Singers scored individual successes. Edwin Hawkins’s 1969 recording of O Happy Day sold over a million copies on both religious and popular music charts. Large community-based gospel choirs, such as the Mississippi Mass Choir, the Abyssinian Choir led by Alex Bradford, the Greater Metropolitan Church of Christ Choir led by Isaac Whittmon, the Harold Smith Majestics, the Donal Vail Choraleers, the Charles Ford Singers, the Triboro Mass Choir led by Albert Jamison, the Chicago Community Choir led by Jessy Dixon, the Voices of Tabernacle led by James Cleveland, and the Michigan State Community Choir led by Mattie Moss Clark, made successful recordings and/or tours around the United States. Soloists and small groups that emerged in their own right during this era were Shirley Caesar, Marion Williams (1927–1994), who had been a member of the Clara Ward Singers, Albertina Walker, Delois Barrett Campbell and the Barrett Sisters, and the O’Neal Twins.
CONTEMPORARY GOSPEL SOUNDS
Since the 1970s, gospel music has reached a mainstream audience and become a commercially viable tradition. In vocal harmony music, the groups Sweet Honey in the Rock and Take 6 have continued the tradition of gospel quartets and small choral groups. An a cappella group of female vocalists that performs an eclectic mix of political music, folk songs, spirituals, and gospel, Sweet Honey in the Rock’s album Feel Something Drawing Me On (1989) focused on sacred music. Take 6, a male ensemble of Seventh Day Adventists, won several Grammy awards for its original song Spread Love (1988), and for Take 6 (1988) and So Much 2 Say (1991).
The tradition has also produced several popular musicians, such as Sam Cooke (1931–1964), Lou Rawls (1933– 2006), Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles (1930–2004), Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Bobby Womack, and Johnnie Taylor (1938–2000), among others. In fact, Sam Cooke, who had been a lead singer with the Soul Stirrers, was among the first gospel singers to have a successful crossover career and achieve equal success as a popular music performer. Other contemporary musicians who have remained more or less within the tradition, while reaching large crossover audiences, include Andraè Couch, Tramaine Hawkins, Walter Hawkins, Lynette Hawkins, Jessy Dixon, the celebrated Winans Family, and Kirk Franklin.
During the 1990s, gospel began to be influenced by rap music, although gospel musicians referred to their performances as “street poetry.” Large ensembles such as Sounds of Blackness have used rap music to reinvent sacred songs, while gospel quartets, such as the Williams Brothers, have incorporated synthesizers and percussion overdubs into their modern version of gospel. These innovations have created sizeable controversy among performers and listeners devoted to more traditional styles of gospel music.
Though most gospel music continues to be performed at religious services and African American community events across the United States, it is recognized as a truly significant aspect of America’s cultural heritage, as witnessed in such Smithsonian Institution projects as We’ll Understand It Better By and By: Pioneering African American Gospel Composers (1992) and Smithsonian’s gospel music collection Wade in the Water (1994).
(To locate biographical profiles more readily, please consult the index at the back of the book.)
YOLANDA ADAMS (1961– ) Singer
A native of Houston, Yolanda Adams was born on August 27, 1961. She is the oldest of six siblings. Her family offered her a solidly religious upbringing, and as a small child she created for herself an imaginary friend she called “Hallelujah” and sang a solo in church at age three. She grew up with the classic gospel sounds of James Cleveland and the Edwin Hawkins Singers, but hers was also a musically eclectic household. Adams’s mother, a pianist who majored in music in college, introduced her daughter to jazz, classical music, and rhythm and blues. Adams joined a gospel choir, the Southeast Inspirational Choir, shortly after her father’s death when she was 13 years of age.
Adams hoped to become a fashion model even as she embarked on a career as an elementary school teacher. However, her powerful voice propelled her to the fore-front of the Southeast Inspirational Choir’s performances; she took a solo on the choir’s 1980 hit “My Liberty.” In 1986 well-known gospel producer, composer, and pianist Thomas Whitfield heard the choir and wasted no time in approaching Adams. The result was the album Just as I Am released in 1987 on Sound of Gospel Records.
Adams signed with the Tribute label in 1990, and between 1990 and 1997 released four successful albums, all of which won Stellar awards, a prestigious gospel music industry honor. Albums Through the Storm and Save the World produced pieces that Adams still sings in concert, such as “The Battle Is the Lord’s,” but it was 1995’s More Than a Melody that really moved her style sharply in the direction of secular urban contemporary music. The album was honored with a Soul Train Lady of Soul award and a Grammy award nomination, and 1996’s Yolanda . . . Live in Washington also earned the singer a Grammy nomination.
In the years following the release of More Than a Melody, honors and opportunities have flowed Adams’s way with increasing regularity. She performed on the 1996 Soul Train Music Awards, the 1997 Essence Awards, BET’s Teen Summit, and the Tonight Show. A special thrill was a performance during the Christmas festivities at the White House in 1995. Adams was also named a national spokesperson for the FILA Corporation’s Operation Rebound youth outreach program, a post that often takes her on the road to speak with students in inner-city schools.
During the late 1990s, Adams’s reputation seemed certain to continue to rise. In 1997 she was featured in the 50-city Tour of Life organized and headed by contemporary gospel sensation Kirk Franklin. That same year, she married stockbroker and former New York Jets football player Tim Crawford at Houston’s First Presbyterian Church, and she enrolled in the prestigious divinity program at Howard University in Washington, DC.
In 2001, Adams won the award for R&B/Soul or Rap Song for “Open My Heart” at the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards. Her album The Experience won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album in 2002. That same year, she also collected an American Music Award and co-hosted the 33rd annual Dove Awards with NFL-star Kurt Warner.
VANESSA BELL ARMSTRONG (1953– ) Gospel Singer
Armstrong was born Vanessa Bell on October 2, 1953, in Detroit, Michigan. During the late 1980s, her combination of gospel music with the secular stylings of influences such as Aretha Franklin laid the groundwork for successful “crossover” gospel stars like Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, and CeCe Winans.
Armstrong, whose father was a minister, began singing in Detroit churches when she was only four years old. In 1966, the gospel choir leader Mattie Moss Clark heard the young Armstrong perform and took her under her wing. Soon the young singer was performing with such artists as the Rev. James Cleveland, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and the Winans Family.
After marriage and the birth of five children, Armstrong recorded her debut album, Peace Be Still, in 1984. The album was an immediate success, going to the top of the gospel charts and winning Armstrong a recording contract with the R&B label Jive Records. In 1987, she performed the theme song of NBC’s television series Amen and appeared in the Broadway production Don’t Get God Started. That year she also released her second album, Vanessa Bell Armstrong. The album, which blended gospel with contemporary urban music, had one of its singles, “You Bring Out the Best in Me,” become a hit on the R&B charts, and proved to be a strong seller. At the same time, Armstrong received criticism from some fans of traditional gospel who accused the singer of “selling out” and “backsliding.”
In the early 1990s, Armstrong released four albums, Wonderful One (1990), The Truth About Christmas (1990), Chosen (1991), and Something on the Inside (1993). In 1995, she chose John P. Kee as the producer of her seventh album, The Secret Is Out. In 1998, she released the acclaimed Desire of My Heart: Live in Detroit, which featured performances by her father, Elder Jesse Bell, and Perfecting Church’s pastor Marvin Winans. The album marked a strong return to traditional gospel themes, a move that pleased many fans. She followed with Brand New Day in 2001.
SHIRLEY CAESAR (1938– ) Singer
The leading gospel music singer of her generation, Shirley Caesar was born in Durham, North Carolina, in 1938. One of 12 children born to gospel great “Big Jim” Caesar, Shirley sang in church choirs as a child. By age 14, Caesar went on the road as a professional gospel singer, touring the church circuit on weekends and during school vacations. Known as “Baby Shirley,” Caesar joined the Caravans in 1958. Featured as an opening act in the show, Caesar worked the audience to a near fever pitch. When Inez Andrews left the Caravans in 1961, Caesar became the featured artist who provided crowds with powerful performances of such songs as “Comfort Me,” “Running for Jesus,” and “Sweeping Through the City.”
After leaving the Caravans in 1966, Caesar formed her own group, the Shirley Caesar Singers. Her sheer energy and determined spirit made her one of the reigning queens of modern gospel. Her first album I’ll Go remains one of her most critically acclaimed. In 1969, she released a ten-minute sermonette with the St. Louis Choir that earned her a gold record. A ten-time Grammy winner, Caesar conducts weekly sermons at the Mount Calvary Holy Church between performances and recording dates.
REV. JAMES CLEVELAND (1932–1991) Singer, Pianist, Composer
Known by such titles as “King James” and the “Crown Prince,” the Rev. James Cleveland emerged as a giant of the postwar gospel music scene. Likened to the vocal style of Louis Armstrong, Cleveland’s raw bluesy growls and shouts appeared on more recordings than any other gospel singer of his generation.
Born on December 5, 1932, in Chicago, Illinois, James Cleveland first sang gospel under the direction of Thomas Dorsey at the Pilgrim Baptist Church. Inspired by the keyboard talents of gospel singer Roberta Martin, Cleveland later began to study piano. In 1951 Cleveland joined the Gospelaires, a trio that cut several sides for the Apollo label. With the Caravans, Cleveland arranged and performed on two hits “The Solid Rock” and an up-tempo reworking of the song “Old Time Religion.”By the mid-1950s, Cleveland’s original compositions had found their way into the repertoires of numerous gospel groups, and he was performing with such artists as the Thorn Gospel Singers, Roberta Martin Singers, Mahalia Jackson, the Gospel Allstars, and the Meditation Singers. In 1960, Cleveland formed the Cleveland Singers featuring organist and accompanist Billy Preston. The smash hit “Love of God” recorded with the Detroit-based Voices of Tabernacle, won Cleveland nationwide fame within the gospel community. Signing with the Savoy label, Cleveland, along with keyboardist Billy Preston, released a long list of classic albums including Christ Is the Answer, and Peace Be Still. As a founder of the Gospel Workshop of America in 1968, Cleveland organized annual conventions that brought together thousands of gospel singers and songwriters. A year later, he helped found the Southern California Community Choir.
In 1972, James was reunited with his former piano understudy Aretha Franklin, who featured him as a guest artist on the album Amazing Grace. Recipient of the NAACP Image Award, Cleveland also acquired an honorary doctorate from Temple Baptist College. Although the commercial gospel trends of the 1980s had caused a downturn in Cleveland’s career, he continued to perform the gutsy blues-based sound that brought him recognition from listeners throughout the world. Cleveland died February 9, 1991, in Los Angeles, California.
ANDRAÈ CROUCH (1942– ) Singer, Pianist
An exponent of a modern pop-based gospel style, Andraè Crouch became one of the leading gospel singers of the 1960s and 1970s. Born on July 1, 1942, in Los Angeles, Andraè Edward Crouch grew up singing in his father’s church. Along with his brother and sister, Crouch formed the Crouch Trio, which performed at their father’s services as well as on live Sunday-night radio broadcasts. In the mid-1960s Crouch was “discovered” by white Pentecostal evangelists and subsequently signed a contract with Light, a white religious record label. Over the last four decades, Crouch has written numerous songs, many of which have become standards in the repertoire of modern gospel groups. Among his most famous songs are “I Don’t Know Why Jesus Loved Me,” “Through It All,” and “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power.” In recognition for this work, Crouch received an ASCAP Special Songwriter Award.
During the late 1960s Crouch, inspired by the modern charismatic revival movement, began adopting street smart language and informal wardrobe. After forming the Disciples in 1968, Crouch recorded extensively and toured throughout the United States and Europe. His California style of gospel music combines rock, country music, and soul with traditional gospel forms. The Disciples won Grammys in 1975, for Take Me Back and in 1979, for Live in London, which also received a Dove Award. This Is Another Day garnered a Dove Award in 1976, as did Crouch’s 1984 solo recording No Time to Lose.
Since the 1970s, Crouch’s back-up groups have incorporated both electronic and acoustic instruments including synthesizers. The new approach earned Grammys in 1980 and 1981. As the decade ensued, Crouch recorded as a solo artist and was bestowed the Gospel Music Excellence Award for best male vocalist in 1982, for More of the Best. During this period, Crouch was also instrumental in helping the Winans Family produce their first recordings.
On September 23, 1995, Crouch assumed the pastorship of the Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ in Pacoima, California, the same pulpit once manned by his father. Nearly one year earlier, Crouch—a two-time NAACP Image Award recipient and one-time Golden Halo awardee—released Mercy!, his first album since 1984. His return was well-received, and he has followed it up with more recordings, including Pray (1997) and Gift of Christmas (1998). In 1998 Crouch was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame.
THOMAS A. DORSEY (1899–1993) Composer, Arranger, Music Promoter
Popularly known as the “Father of Gospel Music,” Dorsey was born on July 1, 1899, in Villa Rica, Georgia. He sang in church choirs and occasionally traveled with his father, accompanying him on the keyboard during evangelizing trips. When he dropped out of school at around age 13, he began playing in a local saloon and adopted the stage name “Barrelhouse Tommy,” which was one of many that he used. In 1916 Dorsey went to Chicago, and it became his home base for the rest of his life. Between 1919 and 1921, he studied at the Chicago School of Composition and Arranging. He worked with the jazz group Will Walker’s Whispering Syncopators in local Chicago clubs and scored a triumph when his work “Riverside Blues” was recorded by the great cornettist Joseph “King” Oliver in December 1923.
Although Thomas A. Dorsey was a well-known blues musician as a result of his arrangements, compositions, performances and recordings throughout much of the 1920s, his lasting contribution to the history of American music, if not the world, lay in his talent as a sacred music composer. As early as 1920, he experienced a religious rebirth at the National Baptist Convention, and one of his religious songs “If I Don’t Get There” appeared in a later edition of the convention’s landmark collection Gospel Pearls produced in 1921. As early as 1927, he had begun promoting his religious songs in area churches, but was rejected by many ministers because of the arrangements’ stylistic affinity to the blues.
In 1930 Dorsey’s song “If You See My Savior” was performed at the National Baptist Convention to a tumultuous
response. From that point on, he became more committed to composing, arranging, promoting and recording gospel songs. In 1931, along with Theodore Frye, he organized what is generally recognized as the world’s first gospel chorus at Chicago’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. During this period, Dorsey formed his own publishing company dedicated to selling gospel music and co-founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, Inc., with his colleague Sallie Martin. The organization became a vehicle for training gospel choirs and coaching soloist. This booming period in Dorsey’s career was not without its personal tragedy, however. In 1932, his first wife, Nettie, died in childbirth. After this traumatic event, he composed his most celebrated work “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”Among Dorsey’s most celebrated discoveries was Mahalia Jackson, who became gospel music’s first international star. He also served as her official accompanist between the years 1937–1946. Dorsey also promoted Clara Ward, along with many other singers and groups. Dorsey toured extensively in the 1930s and 1940s throughout the United States, Europe, Mexico and North Africa and served as director of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, Inc. into the 1970s.
By the late 1970s, failing health forced him into semi-retirement. Dorsey reemerged in a 1982 documentary Say Amen, Somebody, in which he appeared with Mother Willie Mae Ford Smith; the documentary also featured footage of some of Dorsey’s historical performances with Ford Smith and several of his protégéges including Mahalia Jackson, the O’Neal twins, Delois Barrett Campbell, and the Barrett Sisters. By the late 1980s he was suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. He died in Chicago, Illinois, in January 1993.
KIRK FRANKLIN (1970– ) Singer, Composer
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1970, Kirk Franklin was reportedly abandoned by his teenage mother when he was an infant; he was adopted by his Aunt Gertrude, who was a strict Baptist. Being raised in a very religious environment, he was teased by his friends who called him “church boy.” He began taking keyboard lessons at the age of four and, by the time he was 11 years old, led the Mt. Rose Baptist Church near Dallas. After a troubled adolescence, Franklin eventually returned to his religious roots.
By the mid-1980s, Franklin was attracting the attention of religious music producers with his songs and choral works. In 1991 his compositions appeared on a recording by the Dallas-Fort Worth Mass Choir entitled “I Will Let Nothing Separate Me.” By 1993, he had put together a 17-piece vocal group, the Family, and released his debut album Kirk Franklin and the Family. Selections from this release caused crossover appeal—Franklin’s songs, while religious in text, were being played on rhythm and blues charts. While this caused his reputation to spread in many pop music markets, it disturbed many gospel music purists who felt that release was too pop-oriented. Franklin fueled these suspicions further by signing a record deal with B-Rite Records, which also had an association with the rap label, Death Row Records.
In 1995, Franklin and the Family released a Christmas recording, but his next major album Whatcha Lookin 4 in 1996 took Franklin’s combination of rhythm and blues and gospel one further step—the album hit the pop charts running and scored on both the gospel and rhythm and blues charts. As with his first release, it won accolades among pop music followers, much to the disappointment of gospel music’s conservative rank. In 1997, he was chosen as Billboard Magazine’s number one gospel artist and number one contemporary Christian artist and signed a multiyear recording contract with the B-Rite label. In 1998, Franklin released Nu Nation Project, which contained biblical references and stylistically was a combination of rap music and gospel. In that same year, his autobiography Church Boy was released. With the release of a live album,The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin in 2002, Franklin continued to received critical and popular praise. Franklin is married to former rhythm and blues singer, Tammy Renee Collins, and they have three children.
TRAMAINE HAWKINS (1951– ) Singer
Tramaine Hawkins began singing when she was only four years old in the Ephesian Church of God in Christ in Berkeley, California where her grandfather was pastor. Though Hawkins developed her passion for gospel music during childhood, her career accelerated in 1969 when the Northern California State Choir—which she had joined—recorded “Oh Happy Day.” Her first performance with the choir after the song’s success was at Madison Square Garden.
As a child, Hawkins sang with the Sunshine Band and later with the Heavenly Tones. After 11 years together, the Heavenly Tones began to get offers to sing at secular jobs, but Hawkins felt her calling was still gospel music. When the Northern California State Choir’s name was changed to the Edwin Hawkins Singers and the choir started to do a lot of club dates for entertainers, such as the Jackson Five and Diana Ross, Hawkins chose to leave the group.
For 11 months, she sang with Andraè Crouch’s Disciples. Yet Hawkins missed her old group and rejoined it. In 1970, after touring Europe with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, she accepted a marriage proposal from Edwin’s brother, Walter Hawkins. During their many years of marriage, she worked side by side with Walter, also a singer, recording artist, composer, arranger, producer, and the pastor of the Love Center Church in Oakland, California. Eventually they divorced, and Tramaine married Tommy Richardson. On occasion, Walter and Tramaine still work together.
Hawkins has a controversial, contemporary style that has been criticized over the years. She raised suspicion in 1985 within the gospel community when her techno-funk hit “Fall Down,” from the Spirit of Love album, topped the dance charts despite the religious content of its lyrics. In a 1990 concert, Hawkins brought in musicians and singers from outside the gospel field to participate in a live-recording project including rock guitarist Carlos Santana, jazz organist Jimmy McGriff, and jazz tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Her success with her mixing of traditional gospel, blues, jazz, and other singing styles helped create what is called contemporary gospel.
Altogether, Hawkins has recorded nine solo albums and won numerous awards including two Grammys, two Dove Awards, and two Communications Excellence to Black Audiences (CEBA) Awards.
MAHALIA JACKSON (1912–1972) Singer
Hailed as the world’s greatest gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson’s rich contralto voice became a national institution. Through her many live engagements, recordings, and television appearances, Jackson elevated gospel music to a level of popularity unprecedented in the history of African American religious music.
The third of six children, Jackson was born on October 26, 1912, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Growing up in New Orleans, Jackson absorbed the sounds of parade music and brass bands. She later discovered the blues, a music labeled the “devil’s music” by regular churchgoers, and listened secretly to recordings of singers such as Mamie and Bessie Smith.
In 1927, at the age of 15, Jackson moved to Chicago where she joined the Greater Salem Baptist Church. Two years later, Jackson met the gospel musician and songwriter Thomas A. Dorsey who invited her to sing at the Pilgrim Baptist Church. In 1937 Jackson recorded four sides for the Decca label including the song “God’s Gonna Separate the Wheat From the Tares.”
Jackson’s big break arrived in 1947 when she released gospel music’s first million-selling record “Move on Up a Little.” In 1949 her song “Let the Holy Ghost Fall on Me” won the French Academy’s Grand Prix du Disque. Soon afterward, she toured Europe and recorded the gospel hit “In the Upper Room.” During the 1960s, Jackson became a musical ambassador—not only did she perform at the White House and at London’s Albert Hall, but she sang at the historic 1963 March on Washington. She was asked by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to sing at his funeral should she survive him. She sadly fulfilled this engagement after his assassination in 1968.
On January 27, 1972, Jackson died of a heart condition in Chicago, Illinois. At her funeral at Great Salem Baptist, some 45,000 mourners gathered to pay their respects to a woman who brought gospel music into the hearts and homes of millions of listeners.
T. D. JAKES. SEERELIGION CHAPTER.
BOBBY JONES (1939– ) Singer, Televison Host
Bobby Jones, born in Paris, Tennessee, was a schoolteacher in Nashville for a time after earning his master’s degree from Tennessee State University. He left his teaching job to become a textbook consultant specializing in elementary education, then began teaching reading skills at Tennessee State University in the early 1970s. Around this same time, he also began a second career as a singer on the gospel circuit and continued his activism in the local civil rights movement and his church. In 1976 he helped create the city’s first Black Expo which featured numerous workshops, and also attracted some of its 50,000 attendees with a host of concerts.
Black Expo also attracted the attention of local media executives and inspired Jones to suggest a local gospel show. The Nashville Gospel Show was a hit in the area, but Jones jumped ship in 1980 when he was invited by Robert Johnson, founder of the fledgling Black Entertainment Television (BET) network, to bring an hour of gospel television to the new cable network. Similar to its counterparts in pop and soul, the show offers gospel fans live performances by well-known names in the industry along with interview clips and album reviews. The Bobby Jones Gospel Hour is also broadcast on the American Christian Network and the Armed Forces radio and television stations, giving Jones an audience of gospel fans around the world.
In 1989 Jones expanded his presence on BET with the half-hour show Video Gospel, which he also hosts. Jones himself has also performed internationally, including stops in Israel and Africa, and sang at the White House for President Jimmy Carter; he was also invited to appear before Ronald Reagan in a performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Jones kept his teaching job at Tennessee State as late as the mid-1980s, and by then had also earned a doctorate in curriculum leadership from Vanderbilt University. He has a record label, GospoCentric, and in addition to his television responsibilities has brought an increased awareness for the music form since 1989 with his live tours known as the “Bobby Jones Gospel Explosions.” His “Mini-Explosions” bring gospel music to audiences in smaller cities across the United States as well as in Europe and the Caribbean.
JOHN P. KEE (1962– ) Gospel Singer, Songwriter
Born into a religious family on June 4, 1962, in Charlotte, North Carolina, John P. Kee was the 15th of 16 children. The musically gifted Kee formed his first gospel choir by the age of 13, and studied voice and classical music at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. Later, while attending California’s Yuba College Conservatory of Music, Kee worked with such groups as Cameo and Donald Byrd & the Blackbirds. At this time, he also began using and selling cocaine, at one point even going so far as to run a drug operation out of a church.
It wasn’t until Kee witnessed the murder of a close friend during a drug deal that he turned away from his wayward lifestyle and returned to religion and gospel music. In 1981, Kee formed the New Life Community Choir in Charlotte. The choir, which consisted of 30 young inner city recruits, was aimed at attracting the young and providing a safe place for them to flourish spiritually. Four Years later, Kee received a break when he recorded “Jesus Can Do It All” and “He’s My All and All” for James Cleveland’s Gospel Music Workshop of America’s (GMWA) annual mass choir album.
Kee and his choir have recorded and performed prolifically since releasing There Is Hope in 1990. Their subsequent recordings are: Churchin’ Christmas (1992), Churchin’ (1992), Lillies of the Valley (1993), Wash Me (1994), We Walk by Faith (1994), Color Blind (1994), Never Shall Forget (1994), Just Me This Time (1994), Yes Lord (1994), Wait on Him (1994), Livin’ on the Ultimate High (1995), Show Up! (1995), Stand (1995), Christmas Album (1996), Thursday Love (1997), Strength (1997), Any Day (1998), and Not Guilty . . . The Experience (2000). The choir has won two Billboard Music Awards, at least 20 GWMA Excellence Awards, and has been nominated twice for a Grammy Award—for the albums Show Up! and Strength.
Kee has produced albums by Shawn McClemore and New Image, Drea Randle, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, and the Victory in Praise Mass Choir. In addition to his role as a musician, choir director, and producer, Kee has run an inner-city youth program in Charlotte and served as a full-time minister.
ROBERTA MARTIN (1907–1969) Singer, Pianist
Born in Helena, Arkansas, on February 12, 1907, Martin was a gifted keyboardist with early ambitions of being a concert pianist. After moving to Chicago as a young adult, she became the accompanist for Thomas A. Dorsey and Theodore Frye’s historic gospel choir at Ebenezer Baptist Church in the 1930s. From this group she co-founded, along with Frye, the all-male Martin-Frye Quartet in 1933. The group subsequently became known as the Roberta Martin Singers. In the 1940s, she added women to the group, including a young lead soprano named Delois Barrett, and toured extensively. Martin also established a music publishing company and produced several of her many compositions including “Try Jesus, He Satisfies” (1943), “Yield Not to Temptation” (1944), and “God Is Still on the Throne” (1959). Martin was also influential as an accompanist and promoted the careers of several other groups including the Barrett Sisters. She died in Chicago, Illinois, on January 18, 1969, after a brief illness.
SALLIE MARTIN (1896–1988) Singer
Born in Pittfield, Georgia, on November 20, 1896, Martin traveled to Chicago, Illinois, in 1919. Her church singing took on greater significance after she began a professional relationship with Thomas A. Dorsey. Martin auditioned for his choir at Ebenezer Baptist Church in the early 1930s, and they maintained an association for the next 40 years. She became a song demonstrator for Dorsey, and they co-founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, Inc. in 1932. Later in 1940, Martin co-founded the Martin-Morris Music Company with musician Kenneth Morris. That same year, she also began touring with her own group, the Roberta Martin Singers, throughout the United States and Europe.
As the Civil Rights movement gained momentum in the late 1950s and early 1960s, gospel music would be heavily identified with the movement. Sallie Martin was an active supporter of both the movement and its figure-head, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. On several occasions, she represented him in his absence, such as at Nigeria’s independence celebration in 1960. After retiring from live performances in the 1970s, she appeared in the French production Gospel Caravan in 1979. In 1986, she was honored by the city of Chicago for her achievements as a singer, composer, and promoter of gospel music. She died two years later at the age of 92.
WILLIE MAE FORD SMITH (1906–1994) Singer
The Ford family moved from Rolling Forks, Mississippi, to Memphis, Tennessee, when Willie Mae, born on April 21, 1906, was a young girl. In the early 1920s, she sang the lead in the Ford family quartet (made up of Ford’s sisters), and they appeared at the National Baptist Convention in 1922 singing “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel” and “I’m in His Care.” In 1932, she met Thomas A. Dorsey who in 1936 appointed her the director of the Soloists Bureau of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, Inc. In this role she demonstrated the proper style and delivery of gospel songs to younger singers.
Because the Baptist Church did not allow women to preach, Smith left in 1939 and joined the Holiness Church of God Apostolic. She became an ordained evangelist and limited her singing to religious services and revivals. As an evangelist, Smith frequently combined a brief sermon with a song. This practice became known as “sermonette and song.” In 1982, she was the subject of a gospel documentary Say Amen, Somebody which featured footage of the historic performances of many of her protégés, including Mahalia Jackson, the O’Neal twins, and Delois Barrett Campbell, as well as her own performances. In 1988, “Mother Smith” was honored with a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her last years were spent in a retirement community in Kansas City, Missouri, which is where she died in 1994.
SISTER ROSETTA THARPE (1915–1973) Singer, Pianist, Guitarist
Born Rosetta Nubin on March 20, 1915, in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, Sister Rosetta Singer Tharpe came from a background of religious music—her mother, Katie Bell Nubin, was a singer in the Holiness Church. At a young age, Rosetta learned to sing and play the piano and guitar. By the 1930s, Tharpe began recording and making appearances in nightclubs. For example, she appeared at New York’s Cotton Club with Cab Calloway accompanying herself on guitar.
In 1938, Tharpe performed gospel music at John Hammond’s concert at Carnegie Hall entitled From Sprirituals to Swing at Carnegie Hall. Tharpe subsequently performed with other well-known popular musicians, including Lucky Millinder, Benny Goodman, and eventually such blues musicians as Muddy Waters. However, she was principally known within religious circles for strong gospel singing and guitar playing. Tharpe later performed with the Dixie Hummingbirds and recorded with her mother, Katie Bell Nubin. Their recorded performance of “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” became a gospel music classic. For a time, she also had a backup group known as the “Rosettes.” As a result of her many bus tours, Tharpe was particularly well known in rural areas of the South. Tharpe eventually settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she died on October 9, 1973.
CHARLES ALBERT TINDLEY (1851?–1933) Composer
Believed to have been born on July 7, 1851, in Berlin, Maryland, Tindley began preaching at outdoor religious gatherings, also known as camp meetings, in Maryland when he was a teenager. In the 1870s, he relocated to Philadelphia to continue his education. He furthered his religious studies by correspondence through Boston Theological Seminary and became an ordained minister in the mid-1880s. After preaching in surrounding states on the East coast, Tindley returned to Philadelphia to pastor the East Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church, later renamed the Tindley Temple in his honor. He held periodic religious music concerts at his church, which frequently featured songs that he had composed. His compositions include such standards as “We’ll Understand It Better By and By,” “What Are They Doing in Heaven Tonight,” “Stand By Me,” and “I’ll Overcome Someday,” which were published in his 1916 collection New Songs of Paradise. This hymnal was quickly adopted by several African American churches around the United States.
Frequently cited as a major influence on gospel music great Thomas A. Dorsey, Tindley unequivocally helped to set the stage for modern gospel music’s emergence. He died on July 26, 1933, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
ALBERTINA WALKER (1929– ) Singer
Affectionately known as the “Queen of Gospel,” Albertina Walker was born and raised on the South side of Chicago, one of nine children in a hardworking Baptist family. Her mother was a member of the West Point Baptist Church, and Albertina and her sister Rose Marie both sang in the choir there. When Walker was still a little girl, the church’s choir director formed a small children’s gospel group called the Williams Singers. With this group, and occasionally as a duo, the Walker sisters performed in churches throughout Chicago and the Midwest.
The West Point Baptist Church was the site of many rousing gospel concerts during Walker’s youth. She was inspired by the performances of such great gospel singers as Sally and Roberta Martin, Mahalia Jackson, and Tommy A. Dorsey. When Walker entered her teen years, she began to sing at various Baptist and Pentecostal churches; the performances were broadcast on radio, giving Walker an entry into the show business side of gospel music.
Along with remaining members of Robert Anderson’s ensemble and keyboardist James Cleveland, Walker created the Caravans. From the group’s founding in 1952 until virtually the end of the 1960s, the Caravans dominated traditional gospel, performing all over the United States and Europe and in such celebrated theaters as New York’s Apollo, Carnegie Hall, and Madison Square Garden. After the Caravans disbanded in 1967, Walker began to perform as a soloist.
Walker was featured in the 1992 film Leap of Faith as a member of a spirited gospel choir. In 1993 she received a Grammy Award nomination for Albertina Walker Live, and that same year she performed a concert for Nelson Mandela during his visit to the United States. From her base in Chicago she has been active in politics, working with the Reverend Jesse Jackson and organizing the Operation PUSH People’s Choir. Her album Songs of the Church brought her a Grammy Award in 1995, and she received a Dove Award two years later for Let’s Go Back: Live in Chicago. Walker is the founder of and one of the chief contributors to the Albertina Walker Scholarship Foundation, a source of funds for aspiring young gospel singers.
THE WINANS FAMILY Gospel Singing Group
Comprised of Benjamin “BeBe,” Cecelia “CeCe,” Marvin, Carvin, Michael, and Ronald, this Detroit-based gospel singing group has become one of gospel music’s first families. The older Winans brothers, Marvin and Carvin, sang at their great-grandfather’s Congregational Church of Christ on Detroit’s east side. The younger Winans children’s musical talents, especially BeBe and CeCe, were further encouraged by their father, David Winans Sr. who was also a minister. He was the first to organize the family into a quartet called the “Testimonials.” Under this name the family quartet produced two recordings “Love Covers” (1977) and “Thy Will Be Done” (1978).
The Winanses eventually came to the attention of the celebrated gospel musician, Andraè Crouch, who was instrumental in helping to produce their first national release Introducing the Winans (1981). The album was subsequently nominated for a Grammy award. Two years later another release Long Time Coming also received a Grammy nomination.
In 1987, BeBe and CeCe launched a duo career with the release BeBe & CeCe Winans, singing mostly jazz, rhythm and blues, and a few religious works. Their next release Heaven (1988) included the recordings “Heaven,” “Lost Without You,” and “Celebrate New Life.” It reached gold record status, rated highly on national rhythm and blues charts, and earned them four Grammy nominations. Their third album Different Lifestyles (1991) reached number one on the national rhythm and blues charts. Since then, BeBe and CeCe have worked together and individually with other celebrated popular artists including Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, and Aretha Franklin, among others. The brother-sister duo has also performed at Carnegie Hall, Culturefest in West Africa, and the 1993 inaugural celebration of President Bill Clinton. They have also released two additional albums Relationships (1994) and The Greatest Hits (1996).
BeBe has recorded three solo albums, including Love & Freedom (2000). CeCe’s numerous solo recordings include Everlasting Love (1998) and the self-titled CeCe Winans (2001). The younger Winans sisters, Angie and Debbie, have recorded with the family; together, they garnered several Dove, Stellar, and Soul Train awards.