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Cleveland always had good Gospel Music

If you have lived in Cleveland over the last several decades, you’ve heard a lot of good gospel groups as there has always been great talent in this city. It could have been back in the day watching Aaron Holbrook, with the Holbrook Singers, or presently with Derrick Lockett Sr. directing the Gospel Ensemble. The Wings Over Jordan Choir was one of the prominent African American choirs during the late 1930s and early 1940s, making broadcast history with the first independently produced national and international radio programs created by African Americans. The group made contributions to choral music and the improvement of race relations. The Wings Over Jordan was founded in 1935 by the Reverend Glenn T. Settle, pastor of Gethsemane Baptist Church on E. 30th and Scovill Avenue. Settle believed in using Negro spirituals to spread Christianity. He promoted establishing a radio program to address the Negro community and introduce the non-Negro to the Negro experience. In 1937, the ensemble performed weekly on the “Negro Hour” over radio station WGAR, a CBS affiliate. It quickly became a hit. Maybe that was before your time and you were of the era during the ’60s with the Prestonians with Reverend Dr. Earl Preston, who also had a television program on WKYC TV 3 entitled “I’M So Happy.” The Prestonians was well known for the hymns, anthems, and spirituals. Over the years Various musicians and soloists have once passed through playing and singing for the Prestonians. Over the years groups, musicians came out of many churches of all denominations: Barbara Collier, Thelma Dorsey, and Freda Hubbard of Williams Temple Church of God in Christ to name a few. Collier and Hubbard gave a stellar performance singing with the R. F. Williams singers. Elder Robert Hicks and the Hicks singers were amongst some of the early groups you could see at Open Door Missionary Baptist Church every 4th Sunday night for the musicals. Hicks recorded a lot of the early music for so many of the great singers. Okay, if you are unaware of them, let’s talk about some you all would know like Leviticus with Earl McElrath and David Crawford. This group was going strong at the same time the Evangelistic Team and the Inspirational Voices of Peace (IVP) under the direction of Michael Harris. IVP is still singing today, celebrating 33 years of praising God through music. The Cleveland Chorale Chapter was and still is one the better choirs in the Midwest, whether you remember Richard Smith spreading his arms while the choir sang background for Herb Thomas “Saviour” or now as Minister Michael Dotson and Michael Pickett continues the choir’s legacy. Now the great Michael Keith Jester carries the leadership for the Greater Cleveland Choral Chapter. Now, family groups singing would have to go the Weeden Family, the Robinson Sisters, and the Sims family who have been around through a few eras. The Weeden Family came out of their father’s church on 71st and Carnegie, St. Timothy. In a conversation recently, I and a friend talked about the recording they did at the church with Avis Graves which wore out the piano. The Sims family can still be heard throughout the city or at their yearly concert. Bea is known for singing with the Prestonians and Chorale Chapter. Everyone had to remember that great voice of Leonard Champion and his sister Jesse Champion who has sung in almost every church in Cleveland. The Gospel Ensemble Anthony Carpenter’s group, The Twilights of Joy, sang with flair as Jerome Lassiter played the organ while Benita Ewing and Carla Daniels provided solos. In later years, groups like HIS, Voices of Praise, and Humbly Submitted were the group's people packed out churches to see. For many decades, Black quartets have thrived in Cleveland and provided immeasurable spiritual uplift as well as musical enjoyment to a large portion of the local population. The tenacious survival of Black quartets preserves a cultural and historical continuity that informs and enriches many lives. The older singers share a sense of brotherhood, a common identification with four-part harmony heritage and lore. For many singers, a powerful desire to perpetuate these traditions is coupled with a belief that singing is their allotted personal service to God. The Elite Jewels who continued to be a presence in Gospel Music in Cleveland has been singing well over 60 years. The Golden Echoes, The Harmony Echoes, The New Heavenly Wonders, and the Gospel Travelers all sang around the quartet circle. The Mack Singers and the Burton Singers was one of the many groups you could hear in the ’80s at Your Alternative, one of Cleveland Gospel Clubs during that era.

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