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I Love Gospel Music

Picture of Project Hope Choir 2019 - Photo by James W. Wade III


Growing up in church, during an era that provided a mixture of traditional music (old school) and contemporary, I will always favor those good old school songs. For those who remember, I’m talking about the great voices of the late Minnie Benson, Rev. O. M. Hoover, Rev. E. Ward Sr., and Rev. William T. Sawyer.

Sawyer who was the pastor of Christian Tabernacle was on fire, the music was lit as the young people would say. Under the directorship of Obie Shelton, they had Chester Curry and the late Richard Foy. The church and Sawyer's vision was so far ahead of his time.

In the '70s and '80s, I can remember Pastor Sawyer doing Soul City, The Gospel Crusades against drugs. They recorded and even had a restaurant next door to the church.

Rev. Dr. Earl Preston Jr., Bishop Robert Hubbard, Raymond Raspberry has influenced many of the singers today who are stirring up the city. With Gospel music and preaching being on the forefront, who could forget meeting up on Cedar Avenue at Temple Baptist Church every Sunday night for their radio broadcast.

Depending on how far you want to go back, whether Professor Hines was directing or William Charles Sims was, the choir could always sing.

Cleveland has always had good music, If you are close to my age you may remember the late great J.T. Highball who played the Hammond B3 organ with showmanship. Some other legends included My father, Professor James Wade II, Bill Lawson, Helen Turner Thompson, Bea Frost, Marcella Caffie, the late Gertrude Ribbins, and the late Finley Lanier will always be known as some of the city’s great musicians.

Gospel music is the music of African Americans and is ever-changing. From the start, it was always met with challenges and today is no different. Many older members of churches think the music is too worldly. Younger members think older members just don’t understand them. But no matter what, Gospel music is here to stay.

Jerry Thomas brought a vision to the city and set the bar by incorporating the Edwin Hawkins flavor to an all-city children’s choir. Thomas also opened a music school that, by far, was a place to study under Avis Graves and Sharolyn Ferebee to name a few. The Music Academy was a great outlet for up and coming musicians and singers looking to be a blessing in the community.

Pastor Dr. C. Ronald Williams had a velvet touch to the piano playing inspirational and gospel with the Voices of Koinonia. Musicians today perform more modern-day music but some still enjoy old school sounds. Carlton Fellows, Leonard Burks, and Minister Michael Dotson & Leonard Champion were once part of The Evangelistic Team – a group of men who could sing.

Other greats now included Michael Keith Jester, Vicar Bishop Gonelcha Askew, Bishop Steve Gulley, Rodney Hubbard, Mark Carthon Sr., J Carl Singleton, and Donald Graham to name a few that are making a difference in music now.

During the periods of 1900-1930s, gospel music can be attributed to the social changes taking place across the country. Many Blacks from the south were starting to move from to other areas of the US, bringing with them their form of Gospel music.

Gospel music was a form of expression for these people. It was, and still is, a thirst for music African Americans can call their own.

The second stage for Gospel music came during the ’30s, which is called the Dorsey Era. Thomas Dorsey is referred to as the Father of Contemporary Gospel. His songs combined shouts of praise and emotional fervor with a contemporary style that was very much unwelcomed in some churches throughout the US.

The ’50s brought more changes in Gospel music. The ensembles were accompanied by a piano or organ. Some of the groups of this era were the Clara Ward Singers of Philadephia, The Staple Singers of Chicago, and Albertina Walker of Atlanta. Albertina Walker formed a group called the Caravans that featured Rev. Shirley Ceasar. James Cleveland, who became a famed composer, conductor, and soloist and started his convention made a mark.

Gospel quartets had mass public appeal. The members of these groups were casually attired and presented a more flamboyant image. Just recently in Cleveland, there was a Quartet Showcase.

Editors note: Join us for the next part of this gospel music series, coming up

Enjoy great Gospel Music on our You Tube Channel Click Here

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James W. Wade III
James W. Wade III
May 01, 2020

I enjoyed writing this, Cleveland Gospel Music has a lot of history. More to come from this series.

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