Updated: Mar 11, 2021
By James W. Wade III
After watching the new Ricky Dillard & New G project on Friday, May 1, 2020, my friend Phillip K. Jones II wrote: "Glad To Be In The Service" recorded Live at Haven of Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois. It made me think of great choirs in Cleveland over the years. We have so many, but my mind went to the 80s. I was thinking about the days at Your Alternative Gospel Club located on East 127th and Kinsman Ave. This place was owned and ran by the late Sonny Jones.
Jones owned and operated a trendy bar at that location called The Kinsman Grille. After attending a funeral at Providence Baptist Church, he dedicated his life to Christ and changed the establishment to host nothing but Gospel Music every weekend, no liquor. So many came each week, lines outside the door waiting to get in. Any given week, you could see The Company in His Image, Leviticus, The Evangelistic Team, The Colston Sisters, Doug Burton & The Burton Singers, and many more. Those days hold dear to my heart because, in this era, many still appreciated having church.
I was allowed to be a part of his operation, running sound & lights in the booth that sat high in the middle of the floor. A great experience that Jerry Thomas had open the door for me. In between the shows and breaks, I would play music. Those were the days when Rev. Mark Ribbins would sit in the booth with me, and we laughed and talked about music.
At that time, Mark's family had Ribbins Bookstore on East 116th Street, one of my favorite hangouts. Mrs. Ribbins treated me like I was family. I could laugh and spend time with the whole family up there. This Bookstore was where everybody went, and this was before Rainbow got popular..laughing. Your Alternative days brought me a unique friendship with many great people, especially Rev. Bill McKinney, who was a great man. I Enjoyed his children who sang there many times.
During this time is when I had my first encounter with the songbird Lucretia Colston Bolden. Those sisters could sing, I would ask Bishop Stephen Gulley, who played for them, to play my favorite song. Cretia has grown to be a pillar in the Gospel Music area. She has sung at many significant events, Conventions, and the late Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones's funeral. Cretia has recorded the music's latest album titled "I Will Bless His Holy Name."
Your Alternative through Jerry Thomas had Edwin Hawkins come to a few shows; Shirley Miller of the Edwin Hawkins Singers performed there one weekend with Patrisha A. Gill, who played the piano for her. In this era, sound was everything to me. The late Mr. Thomas Boddie and I built a broadcast sound booth in Temple Baptist Church, where I controlled all the board and what you heard on the radio each week. We Temple came on each Sunday morning and was known for the Sunday night broadcast where they hit the airwaves singing "The Lord is on My Side. Mr. Boddie had a studio at 12202 Union Ave. and holds a Cleveland History place for staying in business longer than any other studio.
This week on The Gospel Tuesday Show, we featured Leviticus, a male singing group that was no joke—founded by Earl McElrath, who once sang with The Hubbard Singers. Many may not know about having some good church over on Crawford Road, where the late Bishop Robert Hubbard was the pastor. Like I said earlier, Leviticus sang at Your Alternative many times. I still enjoy McElrath's musical ability and support him as much as I can. He is the Minister of Music at The Historic Greater Friendship Baptist Church, where the great Rev. Larry Howard is the pastor. Each year in celebration of Pastor Howard's anniversary, McElrath assembles a Women's Choir that sings the last Sunday in February each year. Ladies, if you enjoy singing, I would advise you to join this choir for the celebration.
During those days at Your Alternative, I can still hear Avis Graves wearing that piano out; Cleveland has a lot of talent, many of Michael's EXCELLENT MUSICIANS Michael Dotson, Michael Keith Jester, Michael Pickett, and Michael A. Terry. "Used to love being at the Alternative for live concerts with Leviticus Evangelistic team and the Company; great times!!!!!," said Michael Dotson. If you weren't around to appreciate Terry while he was in Cleveland, I hate to tell you, but you missed out on a great musician.
Dotson, who also relocated from Cleveland but still comes home for many occasions, is a beast as a musician. You can get his music on Amazon "God Is the Greatest Power" from the album Churchin'.
Michael Keith Jester stands among those great musicians in the city and leads the Greater Cleveland Chorale Chapter to do some great things. If you ever want to have fun, sit by Jester, and I guarantee you will be laughing. He has pinned music and arranged a lot of music. He loves working with music and works for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Dean of Engagement & Minister of Music & Worship Arts. These days you can catch him every Sunday at New Freedom Ministries, where Rev. Tonya Fields is the pastor, located at 3476 East 152nd.
Michael A. Terry is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and has been residing in Washington, DC, for the last twenty years. Michael was blessed to travel the world with his gift of music. He displays prolific abilities on the keyboard, a dynamic music director, choral arranger, composer, and teacher. Being gifted at an early age, he has been available to God and spreads the gospel in song.
Over the years, he and his group "Michael Terry and Friends" traveled to London to perform in the production of "Gospel According To Broadway," which also featured "The London Community Gospel Choir," and "The BBC Concert Orchestra." Several of Michael's compositions and arrangements in this production. He was also a singer, keyboard player in gospel artist Donald Lawrence's stage production "Sing Hallelujah" at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Louisville Playhouse, and The Village Gate in New York City.
Each week I will talk about Cleveland's rich Gospel History and some of the people who have paid their dues. If I omitted to call your name, please forgive me; hopefully, I will get to you. While talking to my father this week, we shared memories about many musicians who have gone on home to glory. He thought about his days at Zion Hill Baptist Church playing with the late Mozelle Chaney, who passed away Oct. 31, 2006. He left Zion Hill to play for Temple Baptist Church, where he stayed for over 40 years.
Until next week, be blessed.